"Bedlam In Bug's Back Yard!" Sometimes The Visual Tribute To Battlin' Bill Mantlo Has A Second Part!

Yes! The post no one demanded! All the visual ephemera I could find within my battered back-issues of Battlin' Bill Mantlo and Michael "is" Golden's fizzy kid's comic confection THE MICRONAUTS. I may have missed one or two, but even so here is art from Michael Golden, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Butch Guice etc.. which may very well be shortly lost to time. Not on this old fool's watch! Feast your eyes! BONUS: Is MICRONAUTS #39 the "Rosebud" to Citizen Hibbs? Wilder things have happened, pilgrim! Have a happy Bank Holiday, from your pugnacious pal Jabberin' John K of the UK! EXCELSIOR!  photo HibbsB_zpsvpcxcwpl.jpg MICRONAUTS#39 by Steve Ditko, Danny Bulandi, Bill Mantlo, Jim Novak & Bob Sharen

Anyway, this...

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Thanks, Battlin' Bill and all your artistic partners! This kid appreciated it!

NEXT TIME: Words about COMICS!!!

“He Thought He Could Forget The Past. He was Wrong.” COMICS! Sometimes I Find A whole New Way To Bore You!

Of late I've been a regular Chatty Cathy and no mistake, so as a change of pace I've scanned in some House Ads which ran in DC Comics from (and it's totally arbitrary this) March 1989 to August 1990. I always enjoy looking at these things when I dig out my back issues; they remind me of stuff I have tucked away (and even sometimes forgotten), or nudge me about stuff I mean to pick up at some point before...I come to my senses and start acting my age. Sometimes they just make me shake my head and wonder how that turned out for everyone. Heck, it's just fun looking at them, basically, and I hope you share my fascination...  photo DCHADSstart_zps8zsk4fy9.jpg

Anyway, this...

While this is an image heavy post, and so you do get off lightly, you don't get off Scott-free as I have some words as well. Looking at the ad for SKREEMER I am reminded of one of several reasons why I will always be happy to give Peter Milligan a hug i.e. the ferocious passion with which, early in his career, he sought to make James Joyce an influence on comics. Now with most (mainstream North American) comic writers rarely straying to any level higher than that of Glen A. Larson or The Disney Channel his example is missed more than ever. Also, SKREEMER is not only violence and intelligence beautifully and cheekily intertwined via Milligan's script and Dillon/Ewins' art, but it is also still in print today. So go and buy a copy before I do a more in depth write-up on it, is what I'm getting at there.

JUSTICE INC. by Helfer & Baker isn't in print and (AFAIK) has never been reprinted. This is bad. However, you can pick up both prestige format issues for pennies. Which is good. Particularly if you want a comic which wades into the same troubled waters of America's History as Ellroy's UNDERWORLD USA trilogy and Don Winslow's POWER OF THE DOG. Not only that, but it does so by avoiding Ellroy's grating (if historically accurate) racism and Winslow's risky dalliance with cliché. JUSTICE INC. is also funnier. Not only that but Helfer's scripts show that if your dialogue is going to make the art play second fiddle, then it better be pretty immaculate dialogue. Which his is. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a stylistic chameleon like Kyle Baker on board either, and he makes every artistic inch begrudgingly allotted him work like a pastel shaded dream.

Additionally, from this aged vantage, I well recall Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle's Batman run(s). As well I should, as it's the only comic I allowed myself while, ahem, studying due to the fact that Guinness doesn't buy itself. (Sometimes I weakened and bought SHADE THE CHANGING MAN as well. Shhhh.) Those were some rock solid Batman comics and I'm pretty sure I can't be alone in being keen on a comprehensive collection of them appearing one day.

I note also that there's an advert for THE ART OF WALTER SIMONSON down there, and that volume is packed full of Simonson's early DC work, and is a humongous joy for any Simonson fan (which should really be any fan of Comics). It's also cheap to pick up today; so you just ran out of reasons for not owning it, chum. The magnificent Gil Kane's there as well; still alive back then, and fulfilling his personal dream of adapting (with Roy Thomas) Richard (not John) Wagner's The Ring Cycle. That's easy to find too in 2016, and if you like Gil Kane (as well you should) then that's you sorted. I never read Pepe Moreno's BATMAN: DIGITAL JUSTICE, which was probably for the best as I believe it's now considered to be to DC Comics as E.T. THE VIDEO GAME was to Atari.

There's lots of other stuff there, and feel free to share your recollections and misgivings regarding them. But before I go, it has always struck me as a bit of a dick move on the part of The Flash to challenge Superman to a race. Do you not think? And on that note, stick your face right into The Past and enjoy...COMICS!!!

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NEXT TIME: Take a wild guess, that's right - COMICS!!!

"ARRRRRRRRUUUUGGGH!" COMICS! Sometimes I Should Have Probably Just Watched Valley of the Gwangi Instead!

There’s a new JURASSIC PARK movie out! I’m not particularly bothered! I won’t be going to see it! But I did read a comic adaptation of the first movie! So why waste happenstance! And that’s about as zeity as my geisty gets.  photo JParkEyeB_zps0x7mlhwq.jpg

JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith Anyway, this… JURASSIC PARK#1 -4 Art by Gil Kane & George Perez Written by Walter Simonson Lettered by John Workman Coloured by Tom Smith Based on the screenplay by David Koepp Based on the novel by Michael Crichton and on adaptations by Michael Crichton & Malia Scotch Marmo TOPPS COMICS, $2.95ea (1993)

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In 1978 Michael Crichton wrote and directed the entertaining slice of speculative hooey WESTWORLD. This had robots run amuck in a theme park. Because genius cannot be hurried it would take Crichton a further 12 years to come up with the idea of replacing the robots with dinosaurs, which he did in his 1990 novel JURASSIC PARK. It would take a further 3 years before Steven “ALWAYS” Spielberg would deliver the technically innovative but peculiarly unsatisfying movie of the same name. As a tie-in the short lived TOPPS Comics threw this four issue adaptation out into the world. Several years later I bought them off E-Bay because I saw Gil Kane’s name on the listing. Last week I found them in the garage and finally read them. Which brings up to date, I think. I haven’t read the book so I’m not getting into that. I am as scientific as a chimp so I’m not getting into that either. But I do know I don’t really like JURASSIC PARK the movie and I know that because I’ve never owned it. And this is from a man who owned FALL TIME, TRACES OF RED and FTW on VHS. Yet never JURASSIC PARK. This is less because while JURASSIC PARK has many leathery denizens Mickey Rourke isn’t one of them, and more down to the fact I found JURASSIC PARK a bit underwhelming. I mean, it’s okay when you’re sat in front of it but as soon as you go and do something else there’s a nagging sense that you’ve just done something for the last 127 minutes but a maddening lack of specifics about what exactly that thing was. Usually when that happens I’m wearing a dress with blood in my hair and there’s a uniformed man outside with a bullhorn and some well-armed friends. All you know is it definitely involved Jeff Goldblum and a cup of water. For something that cost $63 million that seems like a remarkably poor return. Usually you can point at something about a movie and say That! That! is why it failed to entertain! But JURASSIC PARK is well directed, well scripted, ably cast, brimming with special FX which are special and, y’know, dinosaurs and…none of that ever actually comes together to make a good movie; it’s just stubbornly bland. As much of an achievement as the FX were at the time surely the eternal achievement of JURASSIC PARK is making a movie about resurrected dinosaurs running amok in an island paradise less engaging than sneaking a fart out.

 photo JParkDNAB_zpsyuwrgw7f.jpg JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith

Of course, I had already been somewhat spoiled on the old dinosaurs running amuck front by Pat Mills and Various European Gentlemen’s FLESH in 2000AD (1977-1978). Despite “Pat Mills and Various European Gentlemen’s FLESH” sounding like something that would be seized at Customs, it was in fact a luridly violent strip aimed at children which involved time travelling Future Cowboys harvesting dinosaurs, in the course of which the tables quickly, predictably, and violently turn. It was fast, nasty and punched its point home like it was trying to grab your spine. In comparison JURASSIC PARK is like a dinosaurs’ tea party where the worst that happens is T-Rex spills milk on a doily and the Velociraptors say something unfortunate about someone’s sister. I don’t want to be crass (but we aren’t always all we want to be) but how many deaths are there in JURASSIC PARK? Four or five? Six tops. That’s pitiful. There are six deaths on every page of FLESH. And if there aren’t (because someone will take me literally) it feels like there are. The deaths in JURASSIC PARK are frictionless punchlines to efficient action set-ups. The deaths in FLESH, however, are nasty and brutal with much screaming and precision about exactly what is happening and how unpleasant it all is. Look, In FLESH you get dialogue like “Gotta STAB this she-hag right in the BRAIN!” and that’s always going to trump “Have some ice cream. Twenty two flavours and I tested every one!” Sure, no one talks like people do in FLESH but then no one is going back in time dressed as cowboys and farming dinosaurs for future supermarkets. YET! If you’re calling foul on dialogue on that creative battlefield you’re getting hung up on the wrong barbed wire, pal. Maybe that’s it - JURASSIC PARK tries to marry spectacle to respectability. Come on, anyone trying to make a respectable dinosaurs run amuck movie has failed at the first hurdle. Basically then, I remain ashamed that I enjoyed CARNOSAUR more.

 photo JParkWordsB_zpsnb9uj7mp.jpg JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith

I can’t actually speak to how well the adaptation and the movie line up because I was unwilling to give up some of my valuable time spent staring into the middle distance and being disappointed in myself to rewatch it. And if you think that makes all this pointless exercise in self-amusement then have a banana! Take two; knock yourself out! Flash Fact: this is my free time. Anyway, parts of the comics adaptation are ridiculously faithful and I’m kind of thinking Walter Simonson simply and efficiently adapted the script (or at least a near to shooting script). I mean that’s basically all he does. I’m not making any huge perceptive leaps here. That’s no foul. Obviously expectations may be raised because of all that pushing-of-comics-into-weird-new-shapes-in-order-to-evoke-the-experience-of-the-movie he (and Archie Goodwin) did with ALIEN: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY. (I may have mentioned it previously. At length.) But Simonson doesn’t do that here so don’t be expecting what he hasn’t done. What he has done is deliver a meat’n’taters movie on the page. In fact, the most interesting thing visual invention wise is how John Workman positions his (as ever) wonderful lettering FX; they really help shunt the eye through the pages. Also interesting are the slight deviations from the movie I could identify. Unless I’m wrong there’s an extra scene with the lawyer at an amber mine (more lawyers talking to capable men in short sleeved shirts outdoors; that’s what JURASSIC PARK needed!) and I know I’m not wrong when Simonson has Kane & Perez illustrate Sam Neill’s “no one in the audience has ever heard of Raptors but you need to be aware of how awesome they are or all this build up simply won’t work…”speech to that random kid as a kind of dream sequence.

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I also thought Bob Peck was in charge of the luckless wage slave bit at the start, but here it looks like it’s Howard Victor Chaykin sporting some shades. (And another thing, I mean, seriously, the whole fiasco is down to employers thinking they don’t have to adhere to basic Health & Safety because, what, it impacts on the “bottom line” and affects “targets” (trans: “money”). There’s a lot of huffing and puffing trying to make the lawyer the villain (because tradition) but all that dude wants is everyone to do what the law says. Fuck that dude, with his safety concerns; I hope he dies humiliatingly hiding in a portable loo. Look, I don’t care how cuddly Richard Attenborough is, he still values human life less than a theme park ride. That misty eyed reminiscence thing about the flea circus? Get real, people, Life is the Circus to Richard Attenborough and we, the people, are THE FLEAS! Dude’s a cock of the first order. Does he get eaten? No, he does not. That’s bloody Rule #1 in dinosaurs run amok movies- payback! Payback for the shitters of the world! Ultimately JURASSIC PARK is toothless (Oh God, that’s some great wordplay. Professional level shit there, John; keep that up! Publishers will be “interested” (trans: “money”) so it’s no wonder I can’t be doing with this movie.) Mind you maybe Gil Kane did that as a joke (recap: the Howard Chaykin in shades thing) because Gil Kane seems to be playing pretty loose character design wise.

 photo JParkRunB_zpsxywpyofg.jpg JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith

Oh, yeah, that’s why I have these comics – Gil Kane. No, not because I ever believed the lie of easy riches implicit in the “Special Collector’s Edition” status of these books with their protective sheaths (which you have to re-insert the comics back into; if you close your eyes you can imagine putting a French tickler on Gumby) and the trading cards included therein. Man, never has a generation been so betrayed as the Comics Fans of the ‘90s. Life wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were all going to be rich. None of us learned life skills because we were going to cash on our mint holofoil BALLJUGGLER#1s and live a life resembling a blizzard of jizz and glitter but with added cats in speedboats. None of us can actually even talk to people never mind hold down a job! Shit like this is why I’m in favour of regulation. Well, that and the whole global financial collapse which threw my country rightwards and into the arms of the Tories. Other than that though, it’s definitely the whole trading cards thing. So, Gil Kane. We were talking about Gil Kane; well, Gil’s here but so is George Perez. Look, I have no beef with George Perez’ work usually; it’s fine. A bit busy and stolid for me personally, but if you want a lot of superheroes all in one place George Perez can do that pretty well. But, man, here in the place where there are no superheroes his heavy lines and consequent dearth of suggestive space where the reader’s mind can play really flattens Kane’s work into inertia. I guess it’s decent enough stuff; he keeps Kane’s basics intact, nothing is omitted. In fairness there are a couple of “imaginary” scenes where the detail gets pared back and in those bits Perez and Kane are a team to reckon with. But Perez’ signature insistence on specificity really hurts Kane’s inherent grace and flow. It’s just a less than ideal combination; both men on their own – smashing, but together, meh, not so much. Hey, that’s how it goes sometimes.

 photo JParkFaceB_zpscpzaqccr.jpg JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith

The salt’n’marshmallow art combo sure makes some of Kane’s faces look weird as well. There certainly seems to have been some kind of power struggle over Laura Dern’s face (artistically speaking). There’s no doubt in my fat and generous heart that Gil Kane was a phenomenal artist but he could only draw two ladies faces- either a goddess or a crone. Laura Dern is neither; she just looks like a normal human being. I’m saying it looks like George Perez redrew her face. Actually I don’t really know what’s going on with the faces here. Kane nails Wayne Knight (artistically speaking) but his Samuel L Jackson looks like he’s never heard of Samuel L Jackson, his Richard Attenborough looks like he’s got a mossy skin disease instead of a beard and (the late, great) Bob peck who looks like Gil Kane drew him in reality doesn’t look like Gil Kane drew him here. I find the face work in these comics fascinating but I can tell from the depth and regularity of your breathing that you want to move on. Why am I even talking about faces! It’s a comic about dinosaurs run amuck and I’m talking about faces! There’s the crux of the matter right there. I never got within about 2000 miles of Gil Kane but you don’t have to be Thought Jacker to guess he probably turned up here to draw dinosaurs, not a bunch of mostly normal looking people in drab clothes ambling about impressively unmemorable set designs. Eventually Kane does get to draw dinosaurs but Walter Simonson, tumbling into the trap of hyper-fidelity to the source, has knacked the pacing. So the bits where Gil can go dino-crazy are well worth showing up for but they are also kind of cramped and hurried. Meanwhile there are all these pages of weird faces saying words, none of which are why anyone turned up, least of all the audience.

 photo JParkRexB_zpscjcdzbt1.jpg JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith

I love Walter Simonson and I love Gil Kane, John Workman is a little cracker and George Perez ain’t never done me no harm so these comics weren’t a total wash. But Honesty, like Christ, compels me to admit they’ve both done better work elsewhere and there are even better dinosaur run amuck comics. So, sure, given the talent involved JURASSIC PARK may be EH! but then that goes for the movie too. So, as adaptations go it’s spot on.

What I want to know is, if dinosaurs were around for so long how come they never invented – COMICS!!!

"..When You're Digging For Artifacts...Don't Bury Your Reputation!" COMICS! Sometimes I Guess You Can't Trust An Orangutan!

In which I continue to drag you along on my cheerless trudge through all the 1970s Marvel UK issues of Planet of the Apes Weekly a man at work lent me that time. Doesn’t it just make everything in your life seem radiant with an inner light by comparison? Suit yourself.  photo PotAExcitmentB_zps7e195ca8.jpg

Planet of the Apes by George Tuska, Mike Esposito & Doug Moench

Anyway, this... PLANET OF THE APES WEEKLY #3 (Week Ending November 9th 1974) Edited by Matt Softley Planet of The Apes Chapter Three: In The Compound! Art by George Tuska & Mike Esposito Written by Doug Moench Based on the 20th Century Fox Motion Picture Planet of The Apes (1968) Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars: River of the Dead! Art by Gil Kane & Bill Everett Written by Roy Thomas Lettered by John Costa Freely adapted from the novel Lt. Gullivar Jones  by Edwin L. Arnold Ka-Zar: Frenzy on the Fortieth Floor! Art by Jack Kirby & Stan Grainger Written by Roy Thomas Lettered by Sam Rosen Ka-Zar created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee Marvel UK, £0.08 (1974)  photo PotA003CB_zps75537661.jpg

A quick note about the covers: Since Planet of the Apes Weekly appeared more frequently than its monthly US parent mag it required more covers. In this issue there's a note about who did what. So fair play to Marvel in this instance. And so let the record show:

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Planet of The Apes Chapter Three: In The Compound! Art by George Tuska & Mike Esposito Written by Doug Moench Based on the 20th Century Fox Motion Picture Planet of The Apes (1968) Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle

Being the third chunk of Doug Moench & George Tuska’s faithful replication of the 20th Century Fox motion picture presentation Planet of the Apes. Just to recap for those joining us late (yeah, right) or anyone who enjoyed their twenties a tad too much – it’s a very respectful adaptation which, in a sense, is nice. But then again it’s a bit too respectful. You’d think Planet of The Apes stormed the beaches of Normandy, invented the iPad or died for our sins. Heck (not Don; just the expletive), I like Planet of the Apes but, c’mon. Mind you, as we’ve also covered (and it will be on the Mid-Terms) there were probably reasons for that (you couldn’t watch the movie in the comfort of your own home, never mind on a tiny phone screen propped up on your dashboard while you drove, like some dangerous jackass.) But, forty years on I get a bit restless reading even these small chunks and my mind wanders and I find myself wasting time and energy making very poor jokes like this:

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Planet of the Apes by George Tuska, Mike Esposito & Doug Moench

I think Zira’s Little Rascals’ face seals that particular deal. But, no, it’s weak comedic tea indeed and I’m not proud of having done that, but it’s pretty clearly Doug Moench and George Tuska’s fault. So, um, Moench is mostly just aping the script and it’s up to Tuska to impress. And he does, really, in bits. In one smashing panel Tuska catches the body language of Doctor Zaius ("Doctor Zaius! Doctor Zaius!") just so. That’s no mean feat as the apes in the old movies walk in a kind of ambling shuffle which encompasses a kind of see-saw effect in the shoulders. Obviously Tuska is denied movement but the figure he draws is clearly frozen at a point in that process.

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Planet of the Apes by George Tuska, Mike Esposito & Doug Moench

Also, and crucially, Moench senses when to shut up and Tuska knows how to sell the pivotal moment when Dr Zaius’ stitched slippers sweeps Taylors words away. It’s not exactly a visual gift that scene, but it works on the page and it’s important that it works. As an entertainment Planet of the Apes keeps its momentum up by serving up a succession of uppercuts to expectations and this one is one of my favourites; when Dr Zaius reveals himself as a big furry shit.

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Planet of the Apes by George Tuska, Mike Esposito & Doug Moench

But it also, also, it puts a little bit of spin on the events. It’s a bit of a shocker isn’t it, really? So Zaius knows? What exactly does he know? How does he know it? Eh? And why doesn’t he have those funny big cheeks like the orangutan in that modern Apes movie? Not the new new one with Commissioner Gordon, no, the old new one. The old new one where Jess Franco, the world’s stupidest genius, ignores every single health and safety protocol (put there for your own safety, people) to save his Dad, who can’t remember how to play the piano anymore (not everyone else; just his Dad because his Dad’s special; fuck everyone else whose Dad can’t remember how to play the piano, or the tuba or whatever. And if your Dad wasn’t musically inclined in the first place, well, he’s just wasted everybody’s time and should lie down in a ditch and scrape the earth over his (rightly) weeping face.)  but instead ruins National Parks for ever. Or something. I don’t know, I had to stop watching when the ape went to stay at Brian (the stocky actor not the baby-faced physicist) Cox’s and it was all David Pelzer Time but, y'know, for motion capture fake animals. I can’t watch animals being sad anymore. Not even pretend ones. I don’t know what happened. I just can’t do that anymore. This is what age does to you; you can't even take pleasure in the suffering of fake animals. Enjoy your youth. But, yeah, the bit on the bridge was good (I came sashaying back in for that bit) and old floppy cheeks was in that bit. So, yeah, Dr Zaius  - did he evolve out of his floppy cheeks? Maybe there’s more than one kind of orangutan? There was “Right turn, Clyde!” Y'know, Clint and that. American Orangutan. Like An Orangutan Lining Up Its Shot. Oscars, yeah. America, I feel you. Sweet. So , yeah, January - not the month to ask a lot of me, I'm guessing.

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Planet of the Apes by George Tuska, Mike Esposito & Doug Moench

It’s kind of freaky that Tuska handles such a quiet (but momentous) moment so well because when action erupts Tuska’s super-heroic Marvel House Style reflexes kick in to ill effect. Muscles become swollen like boulders and a generic air descends on the combat. Super-hero comics (back then anyway) dealt in action rather than violence. (Yes, I’m archaic enough to think there’s a difference between a bit o’ colourful wrasslin’ and some guy in a domino mask dismembering some other dude and feeding him, piece by piece, into his own arse. Call me old fashioned. Call me Pappy!) But PotA isn’t about super heroes; it’s about animals and man and how the two are (SPOILER!) quite similar if you think about it (I hate that presumptuous phrase so much). Yeah, so, action is how humanity domesticates its violence and Tuska undercuts this point by portraying action when he should, I think, be upping the ante to violence. He does good monkey faces though. Sorry, ape faces. See fig. 1 above; that there’s as close to a jowl wobblin’ Elvis Double-Take (see Gigolo Rigmarole! or Clamgasm! for more face shakin’ Presley action!) as comics can come, I believe. In fact the expressions on Tuska’s apes are much better than those on his people. Yeah, Tuska’s Taylor (some might spy) is well served at the emotional extremes but in-between he looks like someone’s switched him off. Don’t get me wrong, with all this talk of lack of effect and lifelessness George Tuska’s art is still a far more amenable sight than , say, that of Greg Land. Tuska’s Nature may well be beige in tooth and claw but at least it isn’t shit. OKAY!


Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars: River of the Dead! Art by Gil Kane & Bill Everett Written by Roy Thomas Lettered by John Costa Freely adapted from the novel Lt. Gullivar Jones by Edwin L. Arnold

In this second episode of the adaptation of the original (cough) inspiration for John Carter our old mucker Gullivar Jones gets a bad case of worms. More pertinently the writing bloats with all the bad habits of Bronze Age writing. Which is a massive shame because it makes me look bad. After all, last time out, I made great play about how Roy Thomas’ writing was as verbose and purple as a Peter Ustinov made of plums. And yet, and yet, I maintained mulishly,  that approach suited the material perfectly. Obviously, I’m not saying I was wrong (what a terrible thing to say; wash your mouth out) I’m just saying I can’t say that this time out. What I was saying a lot while reading it was sub-vocal and largely consisted of instructions for Roy Thomas to get out of Gil Kane’s way. Quite forceful instructions, if you know what I mean.

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Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars by Gil Kane, Sam Grainger & Roy Thomas

Because, be still my beatin’ heart, Gil’s away again. He’s off at a proper canter all right with Gullivar hacking at big worms, then slicing up ape headed spiders (or spider bodied apes) before being crucified and fed to a giant Gil(a) monster. It’s all cavorting and chopping, nasal flare and sweeping hair. It’s Gil Kane with his ridiculously anatomical  antics on great form. The mere brow muscles of Gil Kane’s Gullivar Jones could crack walnuts. The stuff here’s a hair closer to violence than action with the odd gout of blood (ichor?) splashing up from a wounded worm. I remember that being a bit of a shock when I was little; the rarity of such signifiers of the effects of violence lending them weight and, yes, horror. But startling spurts aside, throughout the strip Gil Kane’s spectacular gymnastics have their energy stifled by the physical presence of Thomas’ clotted prose. Because that’s the thing about comics, the writing is there; like a fedora, it’s part of the image.

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Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars by Gil Kane, Sam Grainger & Roy Thomas

Now, I like writing. A good turn of phrase or a mot which is bon turns me on; I like words. But this is Comics so when they bog down the art I’m all rearing back like a horse at a cliff face and Unh-UH! Words that do that better be some special words indeed. Unfortunately the words here aren’t terribly special. I’ve not read the original Arnold novel so maybe Thomas is just adhering  to the source, and the source isn’t very good. Or it’s just not working this time out; it can happen to the best of us. In 1970’s Roy Thomas’ defence there are still, in 2015, plenty of writers who can’t find that golden balance twixt art’n’words. And there’s always the art, which is Gil Kane. Word. GOOD!

Ka-Zar: Frenzy on the Fortieth Floor! Art by Jack Kirby & Stan Grainger Written by Roy Thomas Lettered by Sam Rosen Ka-Zar created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee

Ka-Zar tracks Kraven The Hunter to his swanky NYC hotel lair and battle commences  for the freedom of Zabu. I know what you’re thinking (ugh!) but, no, Ka-Zar doesn’t just barge in like some savage. Instead, like a latter day loin cloth clad Sun Tzu Ka-Zar stands in the lobby of the hotel and bellows…and then barges in like some savage. Kirby’s prime concern here is A!C!T!I!O!N! and he’s set his slobberknocker in the environs of the urban “jungle” to see how that shakes out visually. And visually it works a treat with swinging from balconies instead of branches and commuters hurriedly dispersing like startled rodents. Like an old timey wrasslin' match in the first episode Ka-Zar and Kraven wrassled on Ka-Zar’s home turf and Ka-Zar lost (because Kraven cheated, natch. Boo!) Here we get the rematch where, despite Kraven’s habitual cheating (boo!) and the unfamiliar environs, Ka-Zar is victorious.

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Ka-Zar by Jack Kirby, Sam Grainger, Roy Thomas & Sam Rosen

All Rascally Roy's Stan-tastic dialogue can do is cling on and hope to  convince via its relentless presence that it’s an integral part of the whole thing. Which it isn’t, so you get some dandy Faux-Stan Lee moments of Stan Lee’s patented (not really, legal eagles) “I knew you were going to do that, so I let you, so I can do THIS!” Manoeuvre. Which is a smarter move on his (Stan or Roy's) part than he’s generally given credit for. Such impromptu one-upmanship is, after all, a staple of the schoolyard play of the 1970s target audience.  Children, I’m talking about children there. Remember, children? They used to read comics. Or maybe they still do. Someone bought those 250 giga-billion copies of the first issue of that comic based on the children’s entertainment Star Wars. Children, obviously. Oh, or Retailers.

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Ka-Zar by Jack Kirby, Sam Grainger, Roy Thomas & Sam Rosen

This Ka-Zar strip here is a mess, but it’s fun, it’s daft too; it’s basically men in tights, but these are the kind of tights stretched out of shape by the girth of such 70s giants of the ring as Big Daddy, Kendo Nagasaki and Giant Haystacks rather than those that snugly cosset the somewhat more svelte Superman. Next time they want to make a Wallace Beery "B" they should nix that Barton Fink fella and go for that “Jack Kirby feeling”. It is preposterous stuff  that retains the attention thanks to its rowdy visual energy. Mind you, these visuals are strangely marred by touch-ups. It’s not even subtly done so I know it’s a fact that there’s definitely the hand of a Severin (Marie?)  in the mix here, which makes you wonder what strange set of circumstances must have arisen to occasion Jack Kirby’s art being footled with. I’m not saying Jack Kirby’s mind was on other things but I will say that this strip originally appeared in Astonishing Tales #2 circa 1970, which is when Kirby disappeared from Marvel and took a chance on DC. I’m just sayin’ is all! OKAY!

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This issue of PotA-W is rounded out by a pulse-pounding pin-up. So, I leave you, gentle reader, with this thought: some under-tens didn't put aspirational pictures of sportsmen and women on their wood-chipped walls, but plumped instead for “MARCUS, Gorilla Head of Security Police specialising in violence and torture. Look out for him!” Look for that kid, I say!

NEXT TIME: Hopefully the snow will have melted enough to let the Royal Mail drop off my first comics parcel of the new Year. Then I can stop entertaining myself at your expense and get stuck into some modern – COMICS!!!

"Man HAS No Understanding, Dr. Zira! He Can Be Taught A Few Simple TRICKS Nothing More!" COMICS! Sometimes I'm Just Glad I Don't Have Ka-Zar's Vet Bills!

In which I continue to fly in the face of popular opinion, medical advice, and common sense to continue my languorous amble through Marvel UK’s Planet of the Apes Weekly.  photo SeeDoB_zps620cfde7.jpg Planet of the Apes by Tuska, Esposito & Moench

Anyway, this… PLANET OF THE APES WEEKLY #2 (Week Ending November 2nd 1974) Edited by Matt Softley Planet of The Apes Chapter Two: World of Captive Humans Art by George Tuska & Mike Esposito Written by Doug Moench Based on the 20th Century Fox Motion Picture Planet of The Apes (1968) Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle Gullivar Jones: Warrior of Mars Art by Gil Kane & Bill Everett Written by Roy Thomas Lettered by John Costa Freely adapted from the novel Lt. Gullivar Jones  by Edwin L. Arnold Ka-Zar: The Power of Ka-Zar! Art by Jack Kirby & Stan Grainger Written by Stan Lee Lettered by Sam Rosen Ka-Zar created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee Marvel UK, £0.08 (1974)

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Planet of The Apes Chapter Two: World of Captive Humans Art by George Tuska & Mike Esposito Written by Doug Moench Based on the 20th Century Fox Motion Picture Planet of The Apes (1968) Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle

In which Doug Moench and George Tuska continue to place scenes from the 20th Century Fox motion picture Planet of the Apes in front of you with all the vigour and drama of a tired vice cop at the end of his shift showing you mugshots while preoccupied with remembering where he stashed that fifth of Old Grandad. (No one's judging you; we’ve all been there.) Once again then, it’s Yeoman’s work all the way, with such little spark on the part of the art that at times Tuska’s people are so drained of emotion and animation they resemble big, stiff dolls. Still, George Tuska does wrench himself out of his torpor for a couple of panels where Taylor reacts badly to talk of brain surgery and experimentation but that’s the last page. To be fair, George Tuska had his moments. But few of them are on these pages. I know I said that’d be in the last one; I’m just keeping you on your toes. While faithful replication remains the paramount concern of the adaptation overall, there's still quite a bit of chicken fat about this thing.

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Everything feels dragged out as though the problem isn’t the allotted space but the filling of it. I guess this is why Moench expands on the movie dialogue to ensure every point is made at such ambiguity trepanning length that the movie seems subtle in comparison. (And it’s very much not a subtle movie; it isn’t supposed to be.) Turn that CAPS LOCK off, Moench fans, because I might seem to be giving Moench a hard time but, luckily, he does most of the Marvel Apes material and I’ll be saying far nicer things further down the line. Sure, this is just a weird isolated chunk of a story transformed into an episode by the weekly nature of UK comics production but there’s still a good bit or two. Certainly the bits where the chimpanzees are arguing about tenure, office supplies and quota systems was funnier after several decades sitting at a desk praying for my pension to kick in than it was at age four. While there are bits to like here, they were already in the movie. There’s nothing yet about the adaptation as a comic to cause anyone to start bouncing up and down, teeth bared, while slapping the top of their head. So far even the action scenes have been consistently spuffed down the comic’s leg. This issue's section is mostly talk, and it's all so enervating you pine for the inactive action of last issue. Tuska’s art is just too tentative here to engage for long when limited to talking heads. Heck, they are talking ape heads and still my mind wandered off and…well, I hope it gets back soon, I kind of need it. Meat‘n’taters this strip remains then. OKAY!

Gullivar Jones: Warrior of Mars Art by Gil Kane & Bill Everett Written by Roy Thomas Lettered by John Costa Freely adapted from the novel Lt. Gullivar Jones  by Edwin L. Arnold

The personal highlight of issue 2 is Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars by Gentleman Gil Kane and Rascally Roy Thomas. Now y’all know by now I’m a bit of a one for a GilRoy© Joint, but what y’all don’t know is this particular GilRoy© Joint is the exact and precise one to blame. But before we get to that we have the bit where I prove I can look stuff up on the Internet - this strip originally appeared in issues 16 to 21 of Creatures on The Loose in a series of 10 page instalments with the rest of the comic bulked out by reprints. The perfect size for its slot in PotA-W. This is the one about a Confederate yanked off to Mars where he meets a steel bikini clad princess and kills the stuffing out of a load of bad dudes. It is not to be confused with John Carter of Mars which is the one about a Confederate yanked off to Mars where he meets a naked princess and kills the stuffing out of a load of bad dudes. The two are not to be confused largely because Edwin Lester Arnold’s Gullivar Jones: His Vacation was published in 1905 and Burrough’s (Edgar Rice not William) first John Carter book arrived in 1912. I think, I was kind of losing the will to live reading about all that so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. Anyway, I'm sure they are totally different because the last thing we want is lawyers developing time travel so they can go back and get dead people suing each other as well. Because they will. They will. Hasslein knew. The similarities between the two properties are certainly, um, arresting but then I don’t know how faithful GilRoy©’s adaptation is; there’s always the possibility they blended the two.

 photo WhiteTopB_zpsaa022b3a.jpg Gullivar Jones by Kane, Everett, Thomas & Costa

It can’t be all that faithful to the source because here Gullivar is a ‘Nam Vet (no, not an Indo-Chinese animal doctor; the other kind.) and instead of a magic carpet he is Mars borne on a sort of cloud composed of Gil Kane’s ™ and © cosmic amoebas. Gullivar also has a sweep of ice creamy hair atop his chiselled head not unlike Gentleman Gil’s artic topping. Gully’s hair turns white during his transportation from Earth to Mars; when Gil Kane’s hair turned white is anyone’s guess. (Probably thirty seconds after he started working in comics. Only kidding! It’s just one big fun club-house of magic!) Keen Kane Watcher’s will note quite a lot of Gil Kane’s heroes spurn Just For Men. I don’t know if GilRoy© threw that bit in nor if they gave Gullivar enhanced muscle powers like ERB’s Jon Carter because…I haven’t done my due diligence. Anyway, Gullivar lands on Mars and without checking much out immediately wades in and starts killing things while immediately pairing up with the swellest gal round, Heru by name. It’s a ridiculously propulsive chunk of bounding, swashbuckling, romance, leaping, jumping, violence, buckswashling, torn shirts, and heterosexual male wish fulfilment. It is fantastic stuff if you are partial to GilRoy© Joints, barbaric tomfoolery or, um, John Carter (Shhh!)

 photo PositionB_zpsf50d9993.jpg Gullivar Jones by Kane, Everett, Thomas & Costa

Gil Kane’s on top form here despite the muting effect of the B& W art’s none too precise reproduction. I think some of it’s been redrawn to make it pop out of the monochrome slurry the colour has become, and I’d suggest there looks to be some redrawing around the cups area of Heru's bikini as well if that didn’t make me seem like a creepy weirdo. ( I am a creepy weirdo, of course, but apparently lot of adult life is spent hiding what really you are so no one burns you in public.) Mostly though, I’d say Gil Kane was into this one, which I certainly was. So much so that I know this strip here is where Gil and I struck up an immediate bond; one whereby I would forever after be willing to pay him for his services. Hmm, that sounded a lot less seedy in my head. Because I remember (and I do remember this) reading this exact strip in this issue and feeling Kane’s hit me like Larkin's “enormous yes". Seriously, somewhere in pages 4 and 5 I was lost; Gil and I were in bonded by the chains of art/commerce for life after that. So, you know, if I can just address every comics publisher everywhere, I find the lack of Gil Kane reprints pretty ridiculous. Sort it out, please. Pronto, if you would.

 photo WhenDoThisB_zpsb9f994ed.jpg Gullivar Jones by Kane, Everett, Thomas & Costa

We’ll take about Gil Kane more later no doubt, no doubt. But what about Roy? Roy Thomas plays a big part in making this strip work as well as it does, and I think it works pretty well. I like Roy Thomas; Roy’s okay by me. He likes order to excess and can probably find his apple peeler in the dark but he can write. He can write pulp, anyway. There are plenty of words on these pages; perhaps too many for today’s prose averse readers, but I like ‘em and I think they’re needed. It’s written in a really butch pulp style - this prose stops off in a bar after a hard day riveting to catch the game and sink some brews; this prose buys its shoes by mail because no way is another man touching its feet; this prose wonders why Walter Hill never won an Oscar; this prose totally tucks hard packs of cigarettes under its rolled up sleeve; this prose is macho stuff all told. Which is great, it keys you in, it cues you up - this is beefy pulp action soaked in bourbon, and apologies and poetry aren’t happening tonight, baby! And that’s intentional, “With a cording of throat muscles” is no one’s first choice of wording. We all know what he means but how he says it means something too. Writing there; it’s not just putting one word after another. Gullivar isn't like Roy, Gullivar doesn’t work with words, he works with his hands and his hands are killing hands. Thomas' lurid insight into the mind of the protagonist makes it a much richer and more immersive experience. It's still pulp nonsense but you're paying attention. Here the clumsy carnality of Thomas’ prose couples with the sensual elegance of Kane’s practically throbbing visuals to make a heated experience indeed. Captions aren’t always necessary but also captions aren’t always redundant; captions are a tool - one of many. You choose the right tool for the job. And Gullivar Jones is a right tool. Or something. Someone should reprint this stuff, it's VERY GOOD!

Ka-Zar: The Power of Ka-Zar! Art by Jack Kirby & Stan Grainger Written by Stan Lee Lettered by Sam Rosen Ka-Zar created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee

This starts off with one of those great full page panels which make no sense whatsoever if you think about it for a second - Kraven is thrusting a newspaper at the reader and bellowing about something that’s really getting his balls in an uproar. But, and trust me on this, we aren’t actually there so I don’t know what that all’s about. It’s like we aren’t meant to take it literally or something! Turns out Kraven is on his own in his Kirby-esque study built of, as so many Kirby studies are, antique Lego. Kraven’s plan is to talk out loud about everything he knows concerning Ka-Zar into a “recording device” and when he’s done that, having kick started his little grey cells into unconscious ratiocination, I guess, he will know where Ka-Zar and Zabu are. As plans go this seems pretty flimsy, but it works so, hey, what do I know. Surprisingly, despite being dressed like an Earth-2 Liberace Kraven doesn't want to adopt Lord Peter Whimsy (aka Ka-Zar); Zabu is his real target because, well, Kraven has issues - check out his name! He’s gonna find that sabre-toothed tiger and give it a good wrasslin’!

 photo GoZabuGoB_zpsb4338e0e.jpg Ka-Zar by Kirby, Grainger, Lee & Rosen Preventing you from registering how none of what you read so far makes a lick of sense the story suddenly hurls images of Ka-Zar and Zabu saving some dinosaurs from their own stupidity at you. At this stage (quite early; "Ka-Zar first showed up in the now legendary X-Men#10 (1965). Joltin'John.") in his career Ka-Zar is still talking like he’s got something lodged in his brain. Ka-Zar is basically a blonde Tarzan who lives in the pocket of prehistoric throwbackery known as The Savage Land, and is accompanied by a sabre-toothed tiger rather than a cheeky chimp. I don’t know about you, but by the time I finished that sentence we seemed to be a long way from Tarzan, and yet the jungly musk of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation still permeates everything about Ka-Zar. Go figure. Kraven’s a wrasslin’ man with wrasslin’ on his mind so there’s a whole lot o’ wrassling in this one with some characteristically dynamic Kirby panels. I am always particularly taken by the one where bodies explode away from a figure at the epicentre of a panel and the one where someone cranes their neck to look back out of the panel with a big old “Oh Shit!” expression on their strangely blocky face. Both of which are here but my favourite was a trio of tusslin’ panels which brought to mind a famous Harvey Kurtzman sequence:

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Ka-Zar by Kirby, Grainger, Lee & Rosen

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Cover Detail from "Corpse On The Imjin" And Other Stories by Harvey Kurtzman (Fantagraphics, 2012)

Just a fun collision of images in my head with no deeper meaning or import, I’m sure. But I think we can all agree that Kirby’s use of the foot there is pretty funny. There’s no way this strip wasn’t driven by Kirby’s art and the proof is in the patter Lee provides. Patter which is almost puce in the face as it struggles to both keep up and pretend something sensible is happening. Nothing sensible is happening here but who gives a cheesy toupee when there’s a whole lotta Kirby goin’ on ! GOOD!

BONUS: Rejected visual pitch for Just Imagine...Stan Lee Creating V For Vendetta!

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NEXT TIME: George Tuska starts livening up! Jack Kirby clearly has other things on his mind! And Gil Kane's work forces me to don flame retardent pants! All this and a whole lot less in Part 3 of Planet of the COMICS!!!

"And He Hasn't Yet Learned HOW to Lose!" COMICS! Sometimes You shouldn't Oughta Honk God Off!

Gil Kane. John Buscema. Superman. Mortality.  photo SBomAHeaderB_zps237de432.jpg

Image by Kane, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

Anyway, this… SUPERMAN: BLOOD OF MY ANCESTORS Pencils by Gil Kane, John Buscema Inks by Kevin Nowlan Plot by Gil Kane & Steven Grant Dialogue by Steven Grant Lettered by Ken Lopez Coloured by Noelle Giddings Separations by Sno Cone DC Comics, $6.95 (2003) Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

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Gil Kane! John Buscema! Big John! Garrulous Gil! Together at last! On Superman! No! It isn’t as good as Gil Kane and John Buscema delineating Superman should be! Which is a shame! But then it isn’t totally terrible either! So it’s not too much of a shame! I mean, c’mon, it’s still – Kane! Buscema! Superman! If you can’t wring any pleasure out of that then I hope your high standards are a comfort to you. And while Superman: Blood of My Ancestors may not exactly have been anyone’s finest hour it was, alas, both Kane and Buscema’s final hour. Kane died on 31st January 2000 before the book was completed and Buscema finished it off before he too succumbed to the inevitable on January 10th 2002. Since they were both in their seventies when they died we’ll leave any eyewash about cursed books where it belongs – in the Middle Ages. Now I’m in my own Middle Age I’ve quite warmed to the book but when I first read it I was a demanding little shit and it just didn’t come up to scratch. Mostly that was because it doesn’t really work, but there’s still magic to be mined from it.

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Image by Buscema, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

Dollars to doughnuts the concept for this book came from the brain of Gil Kane; rejigging a Biblically evocative tale with post-apocalyptic trappings is so Gil Kane it might as well have swirl of ice creamy hair and address everyone as “M’boy!” I refer the honourable reader to such prior exercises in friable buildings and flapping loincloths as Blackmark, Talos of the Wilderness Sea and Sword of The Atom. In order to sell his concept (I groundlessly conjecture) Kane had to stick Superman in it. Regrettably this apparent sop to commercialism makes everything a little less sense-making than might be desirable.

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Image by Kane, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

It starts off alright with “my” Superman (everybody has their own Superman but this one is mine; how can I tell? Easy, he says, "Superman doesn’t kill." Word!) swooping in to save lives against a big eye on tentacles (very Gil Kane) which is resorbing people. It’s even quite clever that bit, because the tentacle-eye is devouring their memories and when it starts tucking into Superman it finds his racial memories stored in his DNA and…cue the main story in flashback! By all known laws of North American genre comics this flashback should involve an ancestor of Superman facing just such a beast and defeating it, thus revealing its weakness to his descendent in the present. Kane (or Grant; but I’m guessing Kane) instead sidesteps into the true reason for the book's existence – a sort-of sci-fi scuffle with the Old Testament Samson story. Which is kind of really clever because if memory (Wikipedia) serves Samson is considered by academia as a derivation of the “Sun Hero” type a la Hercules; as is Superman (whom academia is probably slower to recognise). Unfortunately all the bits required to shoehorn the story into Superman’s mythos are the bits where it fails worst. Superman has his own mythology and part of that mythology isn’t that there was kryptonite on Krypton or that Superman’s strength and heroic nature are divinely inspired by Rao and also hereditary. Everyone (he said about to tempt fate) knows Kryptonite is leftovers of Krypton and that Superman is powerful because of the sun and that he is lovely because he was brought up properly by decent elderly white Middle American child stealers.

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Image by Buscema, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

But them’s the breaks; Kane clearly just wanted to do the Space Samson stuff which fortunately is pretty sweet even though he only got to draw it for a few pages before the world was denied his presence. As exits go it might not be inspired but it’s still pretty great. In the slight space fate allotted him Kane crams in all a Gil Kane Fan’s favourites – Power Amoebas©®, Back Flip Impact©®, Angst Akimbo©®,Body Cradling©®, Floating Head of Melodrama©®, Nasal Upshot©®, Turnover Boots©®, Crumbly Buildings©® and more. All of which might as wll be ©® Gil Kane. Yes, those are all things Gil Kane does all the time, but they are also the things Gil Kane Fans turn up for because he was so darn awesome at them. They were his moves. No one ever listened to Elvis sing Moody Blue and thought, well; I have now heard that song I need not ever listen to it again. No, everyone who listens to Elvis sing Moody Blue is forever after waiting to be blessed by that aural glory again. No need for thanks; poorly thought out and decidedly jejune appreciations of comic book artists is what I do. It’s important to note that the success of the art throughout the book is indebted to the sympathetic and fluid inks of Kevin Nowlan. Not only does he professionally finish Kane’s pencils but he’s also called upon to polish Buscema up and in the process provide a discreet visual continuity between the two. Which he does, because Kevin Nowlan is awesome.

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Image by Kane, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone Truly, it’s no mean feat Nowlan performs here either, as Buscema and Kane are hardly interchangeable. I can say that with some authority since this book shows both their essential styles side by side and even their unique interpretations of some of the same characters. Buscema’s a great fit with the book having spent a soul wilting span of years illustrating the savage shenanigans of Conan and such ill-bred sorts. Here amongst the rubble, the rabble, the swords, the sandals, the temples and the tempers Big John walks his last walk and he walks it tall. I didn’t mind the story but most of the fun was looking at Buscema and Kane’s art and then stating the obvious for you. Because looking at Superman: Blood of My Ancestors it’s clear that Kane was all fluid athleticism and Buscema was all burly sturdiness. Kane’s figures flare in their denial of gravity while Buscema’s bodies bow and bend under its burden. Weight is Buscema’s greatness while Kane’s is grace. Buscema’s work thunders with meaty drama while Kane’s shimmers with strident melodrama. Neither men are at the height of their powers here and they probably only look as good as they do because of Nowlan but, still, Christ, these guys. These goddamn guys...uh...shitshitshitdontloseitdontloseit..aw man, my mascara is running now…

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Image by Buscema, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

..Humph. Anyhoo, like Nowlan, Steve Grant pulls his weight and then some in a thankless role. I imagine he was called upon to ‘facilitate’ Kane’s vison hence his twin credits for script and dialogue. It’s probably due to his efforts the book reads as smoothly as it does. It’s still a bit of a bodge; the Krypton stuff never really convincingly meshes with the Earth stuff. But while he can’t quite make it work as a piece he does make enough pieces work well enough. Grant crams in plenty of characterisation too, so that while the villain, Utor(!), is still a villain he is at least a droll one and El (Samson) remains sympathetic even as his arrogance swells to God taunting proportions, but Grant’s best work is with Laras Lilit (AKA Delilah). She’s no one note femme fatale but a complicated and conflicted woman who shares in the redemption El’s ordeal offers. She even gets the best for while, in that endearingly Biblical way, El learns his lesson by dying (that’ll teach him!) she gets to live a life at peace with herself. Which is better than she gets in the original; God alone knows what happens to her in the Bible. Literally.

Superman: Blood of My Ancestors is a bit of a muddle; less satisfying as a comic than it is as a final chance to see two giants of the form in action. It isn’t a great comic but it is by some of comics’ greats so that makes it GOOD!

 photo SBomAGoB_zps9fb150ec.jpg Image by Kane, Nowlan, Grant, Lopez, Giddings & Cone

Out of the eater came something to eat. And out of the strong came forth – COMICS!!!

"...Eerie Friend Of The Needy..." COMICS! Sometimes Gil Did 'em With Roy!

What? Oh, yes. I was on about Gil Kane wasn't I? Thought I'd forgotten didn't you? Or hoped. Probably the latter. Springs eternal, so I hear, much like my chuntering. Where were we...ah, 1980s Gil Kane...  photo Midnight003_B_zpsf7a2c60d.jpg

...and no, nobody does answer that question. But then who cares - it's 1980's Gil Kane! Anyway, this...

SECRET ORIGINS #28 Starring: Midnight Art by Gil Kane Written by Roy Thomas Lettered by Jean Simek Coloured by Tom Ziuko (Also Nightshade by Rob Liefeld, Robert Greenberger et al.) DC Comics, $1.50 (1988) Midnight created by Jack Cole


I found this a few years ago, it was wedged in the back of a bargain box and only eyes trained in Shamballa to spot the word "Kane" on a comic book flickering past in a four colour blur allowed  me to halt my fingers long enough to pull it towards me; like a tiny child rescued from a rushing river. A rushing river whose waters were Time! A child who was not a child but a comic! It's not a comic people talk about a lot but, by Mishima's slippers, it is an astonishing piece of work by Mr. Gil Kane. It starts like this...

 photo Midnight001_B_zps283d5e1c.jpg

In order to impose some sense of order and consistency on the post CRISIS DC Universe SECRET ORIGINS delivered 50 issues during the years 1986-1990, with each issue being dedicated to presenting the newly established origin of one or more DC characters. That's right, in 1986 -1990 DC Comics actually gave enough of a chuff about continuity to have given it a bit of thought so it all worked out nicely. I think we can all agree that the Nu52 has had none of that. Although DC's total banjaxing of their own continuity does still give us the joy of seeing Baleful Brian Hibbs going all puce every single time he realises that Batman now hasn't been Batman long enough to have had all those Robins. Yes, there was a time when DC Comics didn't just pretend everything made sense they actually made it make sense. Obviously Rascally Roy Thomas was all over this series like a rash. So much so that he wrote this comic. And Gil Kane's only gone and drawn it!

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GilRoy worked together on many magnificent series/characters all of which are better remembered today than this. Which is a shame. Mind you, I'm not even sure this character has ever appeared again.  Feel free to correct me, as ever. Midnight first appeared in the Quality published Smash Comics #18 (Jan 1941). The strip was certainly drawn, and probably written by, Jack "Plastic Man" Cole hence the little credit box in the splash above. Just as The Death Patrol were a copy of The Blackhawks so was Midnight essentially The Spirit. Yes, there is a text feature by the Rascally one I have cribbed from. Midnight then is a man in suit and a domino mask who decides, inspired by the character whose adventures he narrates on old timey radio, to right wrongs and smack bad guys about. His name comes from the fact that he confronts his enemies at...midnight! This is clearly a very poor gimmick that the bad guys would soon twig to ending in a dead man in a suit with a domino mask. Inspired, I have submitted to Dan Didio a treatment for a Nu52 treatment of the character which is basically the same except he attacks his foes when they are mid shite. Take my word, people have a really hard time defending themselves when they are on the pot. Anyway, I think it has the requisite level of class modern DC Comics requires and I breathlessly await their response.

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As much as I treasure Roy Thomas, and his work here is entertaining and sprightly as befits the pulpy period set material, I am actually here to talk about Gil Kane. Because 1980s Gil Kane is what I'm all about. Sadly I wasn't invited to personally watch Kane create the art on these pages but to me it looks like he's using markers. That's the sign of a confident man right there. Of course, so I hear, he would have broken down each page into rough layouts down to the panel level. Usually then some tightening up would transform the layouts to pencils and then, naturally, the final inking. But Kane, so I've read, would skip the pencils and just bang! ink over his layouts. With markers. That's...confidence. That's Gil Kane. Worship at your convenience.

Of course the markers may be a mundane reason for the obvious lightness of detail in Kane's work. Certainly in "The Secret Origin Of Midnight" Kane continually veers away from heavy detail.  So much so that his hatching is very rarely even crossed. Cross hatching and heavy detail were the mark of illustrators and, for Kane, there was a clear delineation between artists who favoured continuity and those who had an illustrative bias. Kane was a continuity first guy. To clarify this Kane would often cast it in terms of his work versus that of the Filipino school. Hence his documented dissatisfaction with Rudy Nebres inking of his pencils on the Marvel John Carter series. The reader's eye was meant to flow through Kane's pages obeying the visual rhythm set by the artist himself. When detail occurs it occurs in controlled quantities and its purpose is specific. Here city scenes seem detail rich but on closer inspection the illusion of detail is the result of an accumulation of what turn out to be visual generalisations. Kane saves the more honest detail for when he shows a face in close up. On these occasions he uses his hatching to cue in the mood of the subject regardless of light sources as with the noir movies of his youth. Basically for Kane illustration is used to convey intensity. Here it's usually the intensity of the villainy of a bald fat man but my point remains.

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Also present on these pages is Kane's constant attempts to differentiate between the flesh and the forms of the world it inhabits. It might be argued that there is a concerted and clear divide between the living and the inert in Kane's art. This is a city based tale packed with artfully implied period detail, including suits that make natty look tatty. At no point is there any confusion on the part of the reader between the person and their clothing. This is due to Kane's skill at drapery but also to the fact that he varies the level of detail and line-weight between the clothes and the flesh that they drape. Noticeably so.  A striving for seperation, and yet also some balance, between the natural and the manufactured line was an important part of Kane's artistic ambition. He would always be quick to praise Lou Fine, an artist who Kane felt had achieved excellence in both the geometric and organic line. However, in all fairness I should note that Gil Kane could draw men in hats better than Lou Fine.

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Oh, don't worry this comic contains all the explosive movement, bombastic gymnastics, panel breaking, in-panel montages, punched people back flipping and chisel chinned cavorting that the most frenetically entertaining and irresistibly enjoyable work of Gil Kane always contains. I just thought I'd highlight a couple of things I wouldn't usually mention. If I came off sounding like someone having a dry drunk please don't let it put you off this comic should you see it. After all, it's 1980s Gil Kane and that's VERY GOOD!

After all, if 1980s Gil Kane is anything he's certainly - COMICS!!!


"...Achieving Liberal Ends By Fascist Means." COMICS! Sometimes They Fight To Make Men Free!

...and it stank like it something had crawled up it and died! What? I'm on? That's a bit ahead of schedule. Caught me on the hop a bit there, let's see what we can do. Hold on...let me check my pockets...right! Harumph! This'll have to do. Here goes. Welcome, International Comrades! In this exciting post I will be treating the eyes of all to the sight of many comic covers. Yes! These coruscating covers adorned the 1982-4 run of BLACKHAWK; a run written by Mark Evanier and drawn by Dan Spiegle with back ups from a heavenly host of talents. Pleasure for all viewers ensured as I have mastered the scanner! Technology is yet servant to the flesh! Yes! So, unlike the measly Luis Dominguez scans so unworthy of your mighty gaze these scans provide plenty of artistic acreage for your eyes to graze upon! Also, get ready to meet your new favourite artist Mr. Dan Spiegle! Anyway, this...  photo Blackhawk_Top_zps29308ce7.jpg

"It (BLACKHAWK) was about achieving liberal ends by fascist means." Howard Victor Chaykin amusingly summing up the concept in Comic Book Artist #5 (2005)

You don't know this (because you aren't psychic) but even when you can't see me I'm working. Sometimes I'm even working at the job I'm paid to do or, on rarer occasions ,working to be a decent father and partner but mostly, let's face it, I'm working on something to do with comics for you and you only! At the minute I'm invisibly having a pop at something on BLACKHAWK. A bit like I did for John Carter, you know - how it's changed over the decades. Anyway, I've got loads of stuff and it's all a bit overwhelming but work continues a(snail's)pace. Don't, you know, hold your breath or anything is my advice.

So, a I'm ploughing my way through this particular run of comics; a run I was previously unfamiliar with. And what gets me right from the off is the quality of the covers so I thought I'd share 'em. Now, I don't want to spoil anything I may later write but this series is solidly written by Mark Evanier in a slightly updated romantic adventure strip style. I like that, that's pretty good but Dan Spiegle? Dan Spiegle is a revelation. I will come back to this run even if I don't do the glutton's portion of BLACKHAWK, and I will do so for Dan Spiegle. No offence to Mark Evanier whose work is sturdy and entertaining but Dan Spiegle is...well, words you know, failure of.

Basically, in case I never finish the writing part I didn't want these covers to go to waste as some are sizzlers!  and there was a gap in the content. What does nature abhor? A lack of free content! So,  while you probably came for the Chaykin, Kane or Cockrum, I think you may find you stay for the Spiegle.

Anyway, some BLACKHAWK covers for your pleasure.  I hope you enjoy them.

And now, our Feature Presentation:

BLACKHAWK was created by Chuck Cuidera, Bob Powell and Will Eisner.

 photo Blackhawk251_B_zpsdfac7243.jpg Art by Dave Cockrum

 photo Blackhawk252_B_zps719f25eb.jpg Art by Dave Cockrum

 photo Blackhawk253_B_zps08dd02ac.jpg Art by Dave Cockrum

 photo Blackhawk254_B_zps0be58621.jpg Art by Dave Cockrum

 photo Blackhawk255_B_zps873879d5.jpg Art by Ed Hannigan & Dave Cockrum

 photo Blackhawk256_B_zpsb791247b.jpg Art by Ernie  Colon

 photo Blackhawk257_B_zps607e577c.jpg Art by Howard Victor Chaykin

 photo Blackhawk258_B_zps2c7e006e.jpg Art by Howard Victor Chaykin

 photo Blackhawk259_B_zpsda4a2902.jpg Art by Howard Victor Chaykin

 photo Blackhawk260_B_zps066c260e.jpg Art by Howard Victor Chaykin

 photo Blackhawk261_B_zps8626a92a.jpg Art by Dave Cockrum

 photo Blackhawk262_B_zps69c429a5.jpg Art by Howard Victor Chaykin

 photo Blackhawk263_B_zps1a23964a.jpg Art by Gil Kane

 photo Blackhawk264_B_zps5b33e8b2.jpg Art by Gil Kane

 photo Blackhawk265_B_zps36f86ee0.jpg Art by Dan Spiegle

 photo Blackhawk266_B_zps77167e4f.jpg Art by Dan Spiegle

 photo Blackhawk267_B_zpsbc487fda.jpg Art by Dan Spiegle

 photo Blackhawk268_B_zps97fb0f4a.jpg Art by Dan Spiegle

 photo Blackhawk270_B_zps0da69b16.jpg Art by Dan Spiegle

 photo Blackhawk271_B_zpsf95536b3.jpg Art by Dan Spiegle

 photo Blackhawk272_B_zps5cb280bc.jpg Art by Dan Spiegle

 photo Blackhawk273_B_zpsaf6403f8.jpg Art by Gil Kane

Blimey O'Reilly! I think we can safely say those were - COMICS!!!

"Choke! Gasp!" Not A Podcast! Not Comics! BOOKS! You Know, Like In Days of Yore!

It's a SKIP WEEK so the dulcet toned duo of Gentle Jeff Lester and Glamorous Graeme McMillion$ are off...um...doing, er, stuff and things. Probably. But we here at The Savage Critics love and value each and every one of you (especially you, sir! (or madam!)) and thus I have provided some hacky trash about some books you, let's face it, have no interest in. I know, you can hardly wait! Anyway, Jeff (who lives at home) and Graeme (who works from home) will be back next week. (Please, God.) Grin and bear it is my advice.  Say, anyone remember that time Howard Victor Chaykin got trapped in SWORD OF THE ATOM#3 (DC Comics, 1983) by Gil Kane & Jan Strnad?  photo Atom_B_zps07e47e43.jpgNo, because (as our Savage Legal Dept were fast to point out) that didn't happen. Anyway, this...

TRAPPED IN THE SATURDAY MATINEE by Joe R Lansdale PS Publishing, £19.99 (2012)

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This one’s another career spanning grab bag of bits’n’bobs from the Mojo storyteller hissownself. It’s mostly short stories but there’s also a couple of non-fiction pieces about how imaginative fiction and hard work (also, although modestly whispered, talent) saved the sturdy sensei from a life spent building aluminium lawn furniture. I’m sure we can all agree that aluminium lawn furniture’s loss is weird fiction’s gain. Back there I said another because Lansdale’s career’s so lengthy and his output so vast that there are now several of these retrospective things studding his bibliography. They are all pretty much of a muchness. Each effectively represents the progression of Lansdale’s relaxed and down home style and how he has used it with increasing success to corral his wild flights of fancy into work as entertaining it is deceptively sophisticated. To misquote the American poet and visionary Jon Bon Jovi; He gives pulp a good name (good name). The actual contents of these samplers vary some but they are consistent in demonstrating Lansdale’s vulgar vigour, his inexhaustibly inventive imagination, a nice line in potty mouthery and also the sure sense of place his work delivers. Well, if it’s set in Texas anyway. Which, no fool he, most of his stuff is. Since that’s where he was born and formed Lansdale’s work is deep fried in his Texas surroundings and the colourful vernacular thereof. This is extraordinarily appealing to someone who lives in a country as grey, damp and intrinsically self-hating as England. Hey, I guess if you live in Nacogdoches, Texas then Joe R. Lansdale would be gritty kitchen sink realism. That’s a wild and woolly thought right there. Fair warning for Lansdale fans: this volume includes Lansdale’s Hellboy novelette Jiving With Shadows And Dragons And Long Dark Trains. This being a tale which Lansdale doesn't own and so this will probably be the only book with his name on the spine in which it appears. Hey now, it’s one of them there books by that there Joe R Lansdale and that’s GOOD!

THE QUIDDITY OF WILL SELF by Sam Mills Corsair, £12.99 (2012)

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Thanks to the benevolence of the titular man with the face like a despairing hound Sam Mills uses the name and work of Will Self to lure readers into what would otherwise be a daunting work of bewildering convolution and disorienting stylistic facility. Yes! This is what you want! It’s several hundred pages embodying what Kingsley Amis found so unattractive about his own son’s work and graced with the phrased “titting the reader about”. Or as we mere plebs know it: post-modernism. Apparently this is Sam Mills’ first novel intended for an adult audience (adult as in grown up not adult as in brown paper bags, wandering hands and heavy breathing) and it took her nine years to complete it. Given all that and the fact that Will Self’s work haunts every page (if not every word; if not every letter; you get the drift) then I’d have to say Sam Mills is quite the fan of Will Self. Fans of Will Self or lovers of the use of the word "sesquipedalian" will get the most out of this, I guess. But that doesn't mean folk unfamiliar with Will Self will get nothing out of it. Mills is canny enough to have a character unfamiliar with Self’s work act as the reader surrogate and the various Self-ish sections are based in familiar genres (murder mystery, future dystopia etc) to aid immersion if not actual outright comprehension. It’s fun stuff but most of the fun comes from the bizarre turns and confounding twists this wonkily weird beast takes, so I'll not spoil any of them. I will note that that the underlying theme of how creativity in one person is insanity in another and is thus, by necessity, unique to each of us (if we have any) is vividly and entertainingly plumbed throughout this odd duck's duration. In sum, as Terence Blacker’s Kill Your Darlings is to Martin Amis so is The Quiddity of Will Self  to, well, Will Self, obviously. Keep up now. Or to put it another way The Quiddity of Will Self is VERY GOOD!

UMBRELLA by Will Self Bloomsbury, £18.99 (2012)

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From what I can gather the writing of this book was pretty challenging for the lugubrious human lexicon known as Will Self. His previous book, Walking To Hollywood, was decidedly not a success (an unsuccess?) and he appeared somewhat shaken by its poor sales. I stress that he appeared so in interviews etc not in close personal encounters as I don’t know the man or anything. So, I certainly don’t have access to his sales figures but I can’t imagine Will Self has 7 Shades of Shit level sales in the first place so those must have been some pretty sobering sales. Which is a shame because it was a good book; a mix of psycho-geography, insane asides and a moving consideration of the debilitating encroachment of Alzheimer’s. It didn’t sell despite a scene where the Hulk bums a car and also an extended bloodily ferocious fight between the morose flaneur himself and James Bond (Daniel Craig flava). People just ain’t got no taste, I tells ya! Stung Self retreated, regrouped and reconsidered. The result was a book written in very short sentences about a vampire boy wizard’s adventures in sex and shopping set in space. My little elitist joke designed to raise your hackles there. No, the book Will Self wrote, Umbrella was a decades spanning examination of the effects of technology on the human psyche presented via the experiences of several characters ranging from a coma patient, her ambitious but flawed psychiatrist, her WWI trenches bound class agitating soldier brother and her icy, almost robotic arms manufacturer other brother. And to really reel in the punters, to really bother the upper levels of the sales chart, to ensure those units shifted, Self chose to do it all in a stream of consciousness stylee. In effect it’s a 400-some pages long single paragraph in which the text is so molten that there can be a shift in character and a jump of decades in a single sentence. Paying attention is required I’m very much afraid, but you will be more than amply rewarded for your payment.

The big sexy hook on which all this majestic Modernism (yes, Modernism not Post-Modernism) hangs is the Sleepy Sickness (or encephalitis lethargica for any Romans stil kicking out there) of 1915-1926 and the use of L-Dopa in the ‘70s to briefly awaken the surviving sufferers. Yes, that’s right, this is similar ground to Oliver Sacks’ Awakenings or, for the cinematically inclined, the Penny Marshall directed 2007 motion picture adaptation of same. But Sack’s was fact(ish) and this is fiction and if it were (and it won’t ever be) filmed it should come off like Terry Gilliam directing a mash up of Awakenings, Charley’s War and Britannia Hospital scripted by a maniacally focused Dennis Potter. Umbrella is a beautiful thing is what I’m getting at there. Self's been quite open that his choice to apply the Modernist style was a direct reaction to what he perceived to be a lack of invention in the fiction nominated for such literary lottos as the Man Booker Prize. In a move that could leave only a stone unmoved Umbrella went on to adorn the Man Booker Prize short list for 2012. That’s irony in action there. But! Hilary Mantel took the prize with Bring Up The Bodies the second in her more traditionally honed Richard III Thomas Cromwell trilogy. That’s the literary establishment putting someone in their place in action there. And when you hit the crossed out words you'll see reality taking me down a peg or two too. As the splendidly well read and  factually accurate Jacob pointed out in his comment - I was talking out of my (smart) arse with this next bit. I wrote this stuff on paper, typed it up and forgot to do a basic fact check.  N.B. It is particularly important to fact check books you haven't read.  I've left it in because who doesn't like to see someone humbled? Gandhi? Are you Gandhi? No you are not, sir; so enjoy the schadenfreude it's free!... Still, there’s no shame in Self’s loss as the cosmic fix was clearly in anyway as, shortly after her win, the actual corpse of Mantel’s main character was found buried in a car park. Richard III just pops up for fuck’s sake, what are the chances?!? When reality is pulling publicity stunts on your behalf then winning the Booker’s a walk in the park. I’m sure Hilary Mantel’s book deserved its award but Umbrella was my book of 2012 because it was EXCELLENT!

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Well? What did you want? COMICS!!!

"You See That? He's STILL The Greatest!" COMICS! Sometimes It's GilWolf Unbound!

A-huh! HUH! It’s another instalment of Gil Happy! Unsightly blemishes are a thing of the past as Gil Kane and his plucky sidekick, Marv Wolfman, team up with friends galore to document the exciting, amazing and thoroughly ridiculous adventures of 1980s Superman. Bonus! Feel the years just fall away as we revisit that time a comics creator flicked DC’s tie back in its face! Documentary evidence provided! Anyway this…

 photo Anniv08B_zps923d1c52.jpg DC's Legal Department in a self congratulatory mood...oh, sorry, it's actually Brainiac!

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN: GIL KANE Art by Gil Kane Written by Marv Wolfman, Martin Pasko, Bob Rozakis, Gil Kane, Cary Bates, Roy Thomas and Joey Cavalieri Coloured by Tom Ziuko, Gene D'Angelo, Anthony Tollin, Jerry serpe and Carl Gafford Lettered by Shirley Leferman, Ben Oda, Gaspar Saladino, Andy Kubert, Milt Snapinn and Todd Klein Originally published in Action Comics #539-541, 544-546, DC Comics Presents Annual #3, Superman #367, 372, 375 and Superman Special #1 and 2 DC Comics, $39.99 (2012)

Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

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AN APOLOGY: John's scanner is still acting up. While this sounds like John's housemate is Darryl Revok and he isn't doing his share of the washing up, what it really means is that all images are not taken from this book. All images in the body of the review are in the book but in a much cleaner, nicer form. I apologise for this.

I've mentioned some of the comics contained herein on previous occasions. Usually I've emphasised the art as the stories seemed a bit, er, slapdash. Since my age tanned run was incomplete I thought this was the result of absent chapters. Having experienced the visually splendid whole I find that, in fact, the stories are just straight-up nonsensical and preposterous in the extreme. That’s not intended as a slur on Marv Wolfman, who is a pretty decent comic book writer. Indeed, shortly after these issues he would have a far more coherent run on Adventures of Superman with Jerry Ordway following the Byrne re-boot. This does suggest that Gil Kane had the storytelling/plotting lead here and while he has given himself plenty of ostentatious incidents to illustrate the burden on explaining these, seemingly after the fact, falls to Wolfman. Most of whose intellectual energies are engaged with coming up with various different scientific, cough, results for Superman spinning around very fast indeed. I may exaggerate upon occasion but I feel safe in saying that if you are a fan of pictures of Superman spinning around very fast indeed you will want to marry this book. There are a lot of pictures of Superman spinning around very fast indeed, is what I’m getting at there.

 photo Anniv07B_zps7232b157.jpg No, he isn't spinning around but it is all quite exciting!

As a writer Wolfman gets some craft scraps in the form of Lana And Lois continually trying to c*** block one another over Clark and a slightly less ludicrous approach to inter-personal dynamics than comics may previously have shown. I said, slightly. Yes, Jimmy Olsen does put on a magic show for orphans because - you don’t fuck with the classics. Wolfman does refer to Joanie Loves Chacchi and for this he should never, ever be forgiven. Ideally there’d be an introduction in which Wolfman explained how the book came to be but DC splashed out on glossy paper instead, I guess. Tightwads. As it is I have made a great deal of assumptions so maybe I am wrong. Maybe Marv Wolfman forced Gil Kane to illustrate his scripts exactly as written so convinced was he of their literary worth. Maybe. I doubt it. Anyway, none of it makes any sense at all but Marv Wolfman does make it hold together enough for rational human beings to enjoy the book’s goofy charms without getting nosebleeds. Just about. C’mon, it’s a comic about a flying man with a good heart drawn by Gil Kane and that’s enough for me.

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Gil Kane just straight up drew the Hell out of this panel, didn't he? The collection eases you into the insanity with a couple of shorts one of which is about how if you ignore a hosepipe ban Superman will pay you a personal visit and tell you a story about Krypton expressly designed to make you feel like a proper shitheel. Where I live a man from the Council with cheap shoes and a bad haircut would come round and threaten to fine you which, frankly, lacks razzamatazz in comparison. GilWolf©’s run proper starts with a tale concerning two sorcerers who seek a divorce via time travelling magical violence. Relax, they are a lady and a man so bigots can enjoy this tale too. This magical marital disharmony results in Superman’s doppelganger creating the universe at the dawn of time, where he is spotted by Brainiac whose disembodied consciousness has travelled back to the dawn of creation because mumble mumble. Brainiac, now a fussily re-designed robot, entirely reasonably comes away with the impression that Superman is the Angel of Death or something and pressgangs several planets’ populations into an army. After failing to kill Superman because his plans repeatedly fail to take into account the power of spinning around very fast indeed, Brainiac attacks earth whereupon Gil Kane draws a whole issue where the JLA and Teen Titans fight, fight, fight those coerced alien rascals. This is a mid-way high point as Gil Kane demonstrates you don’t need six fucking months to draw some robots and rubble as well as proving it is possible to draw Starfire without making me ashamed of my entire gender. As I implied, there’s more to come and that more involves a parade of DC’s Lamest Heroes© (who are actually fantastic in their lameness and this world is all the poorer without them), Vandal Savage, some pyramids, aliens, stuff, nonsense, bit, bobs, maybe even a kitchen sink and it all culminates chaotically in that fantastic single issue where Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster create Superman and save the world through their pluck, belief and imagination. I may have mentioned that one before. Fair play though; it’s impressive how each storyline in the main run flows into the next, with elements being carried across and the whole thing building to the magnificently shameless optimism of the final chapter. Sure, it’s crackers but it’s quality crackers. The book ends with a DC COMICS PRESENTS ANNUAL where Superman, Superman of Earth -2 and Captain “Shazam” Marvel fight Silvana which is beautiful in its combination of single minded narrative simplicity and the raw joy communicated by Gil Kane’s art.

 photo SwoopInB_zpsf4eaf735.jpg Swooping in...

And it’s that art you’ll mostly be revelling in. Because, Gil Kane. Keep up, son. Art-wise the big thing I noticed reading these comics in a fat batch wasn't just all Gil Kane’s usual tricks but a couple of new ones. Well, new to me, I’m hardly Oliver Observant you know. I’ll just focus on one because you look a bit restless; apparently having forgotten that you can stop reading this at any time you like. Now, we all know that people being punched so hard they back flip out of the panel is a ©Gil Kane move. It’s not exactly subtle is it? It’s only due to the limits of reality that the back flipping dude isn't literally in your face. But a slyer move Gil Kane sneaks in is a number of panels where a character will be flying, leaping, bounding etc (as Kane’s athletic characters were wont to do) and some extremity or other crosses beyond the panel border. This basically flips the effect of the “punch out” panels to give the impression of the figure entering the panel/page from without. Sometimes the character’s extremity just fails to cross the border but due to the position and tendency of the figure with the other contents of the panel it’s unmistakably the artist’s intention to communicate the impression of entrance. Over the long haul the combination of these “punch out” and “plunge in” panels create, I think, a particular and magical effect. Rather than the panels on the page being read as images projected onto the flat page and the “screen” of each panel, Kane’s pages are like windows onto another world. Another couple of scotches and I’d be trying to push my face into the panels imagining it looming hugely out of a cloud on the other side of the dimensional barrier that Kane’s art creates the illusion of having broken. Due to Kane’s distinctively friable style it’s obviously not our reality but it could be easily be a world where everything looks like Gil Kane drew it. That’s just the one thing I noticed, there’s plenty of others. As the art goes there’s something to ponder, admire or puzzle over on every one of these pages. Even if that thing is just that someone with talents so awesome and honed by practice could still have such trouble drawing feet.

 photo Act_CAWMON_B-1_zps5523acec.jpg Gil Kane was quite a humorous artist too. That guy in the foreground is not only doing a "Hey, youse guys, check out alla da commotion!" pose but the fact that the same pose crops up again and again in more modern milieu implicitly makes this chump the ancestor of many of Kane's foreground folk.

Oh, wait, before you all go could DC Comics just stay behind for a minute…thank you.

Now, I take no pleasure at all in pointing this out but if we don’t address this issue it may have ramifications for your future. So, this book cost £39.99, which is no small sum, and on the back of the jacket there is this blurb:

"Kane's work of Superman shined on such titles as..."

Look, DC Comics, I’m not unsympathetic; I realise these are tight times for us all and I guess, allegedly, crushing the dreams of elderly people in courts of Law is a pricey business. But the apparent outsourcing of your proof reading to the linguistically challenged Brian Bendis is just a false economy. No good can come of it. It hardly speaks to a commitment to quality commensurate with your position in the industry does it now? Treating your audience with the same disdain as you now treat creators post Levitz/Kahn might not actually be the soundest policy with regards to the future. Just a thought there. Don’t let me have to detain you again. Now go outside and play in the sun.

Despite DC Comics’ best efforts at self-sabotage ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN: GIL KANE is VERY GOOD!

However, purchasers will miss out on the non-Gil Kane contents of ACTION #544. But it’s okay because I have that issue and I can fill you in on what you missed. The issue in question is an Anniversary issue and so to celebrate DC Comics got the creators of Superman to contribute.

 photo Anniv01B_zps9c42bd68.jpg Art by Gil Kane and Dick Giordano

That’s Mr Jerome Siegel and Mr Joseph Shuster I’m talking about there. You may remember them fondly from decades of legal hassle with DC Comics. I guess there was a bit of a truce on at the time. DC was paying them something at least, I imagine. Everybody on their best behaviour and all that. So, being the writer, Jerry Siegel gives us several thousand words reminiscing about the creation of Superman; thanking all the people who helped it become a success; how it defined his life and such. It’s all very temperate and polite. Neal Adams et al are all thanked but he doesn’t explicitly say that’s he’s thanking them for securing Joe and he the payments from DC then currently ensuring the truce and the good behaviour.

The whole thing is sweet and kind of heartbreaky. Mind you, the fact that it’s actually addressed to Superman throughout in the manner of one of those letters dead parents leave for their children to find, the ones which emphasise how the child enriched the parent’s truncated life, kind of gets the ducts filling early anyway. Of course, hearts are harder these days, with most of fandom more concerned with how the Siegel & Shuster legal battles would affect the possibility of a Justice League movie or whether Superman’s trunks could come back. Because, priorities.

Being the artist Joe Shuster submits this charming piece:

 photo Anniv04B_zps04ca07dd.jpg

Now, as nice as that is the words he sent it with knock it into a cocked hat. This is what Joe Shuster wrote:

 photo Anniv05B_zps500b1f57.jpg

"...I have decided to keep the original."

All those years, all those lawyers and they didn’t break him.

HA! Now that’s not comics but it is very - COMICS!!!

Have a good Easter now, y'all!

"...Primitive Lyricism..." PEOPLE! Sometimes Gil's Gone!

Gil Kane died on 31 January in the year 2000 A.D. Photobucket

Time enough has now passed that although I still feel the loss of his gargantuan talents I am past the garment rending and hair pulling stage. I will never be beyond the celebrating his work stage though. So what follows is a brief visual burst of Gil Kane's genius from the '80s. After all ACTIONs speak louder than words and Gil was a man of great experience...

"So I know the one quality that I'm always trying to push through in my work is grace and power. Sort of primitive lyricism that I've been capable of. I thought that that's the one quality that sort of saved me and permeated my work and gave me any kind of legitimate status...the thing that I had going for me was that the only thing I wanted to express essentially was the sentimental fall with grace and power, and I try to do that with every drawing I ever did." Gil Kane Gil Kane: Art And Interviews by Daniel Herman (Hermes Press, 2002)

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster





















KANE: I liked those stories. Gil Kane on the GilWolf™’ Superman comics Gil Kane: Art And Interviews by Daniel Herman (Hermes Press, 2002)

Gil Kane (1926 - 2000)



Hopefully, this being the anniversary of Gil Kane's passing, The Internet is alive with chat about this man with élan. After all last time on I Will Make You Care About Gil Kane Before Death Claims Me I was more than likely getting all teary-eyed about the fact no one seemed to talk about Gentleman Gil much these days.  Serendipitously I had read Charles Nicholl's Guardian review of  Andrew Hadfield's Edmund Spenser: A Life. Said review began:

"There is a rather deadly kind of literary fame which TS Eliot neatly defined as a "conspiracy of approval". It condemns a writer" to be universally accepted; to be damned by the praise that quenches all desire to read the book; to be afflicted by the imputation of virtues which excite the least pleasure; and to be read only by historians and antiquaries". (Fairy Singer, Colonial Apparatchik by Charles Nicholl, The Guardian, 21/07/2012)

Although I can feel my face fair sodden by your salivations at the prospect of me going on about TS Eliot or Edmund Spenser I am, in fact, going to stop there because I think the point has been made. It's a good point;  one all the better for not being mine. Is that's what has happened to Gentleman Gil? Is he a victim of the "conspiracy of approval"? I don't want that to happen here; in my series of wholly unbiased and never (never!) hyperbolic pieces on Gil Kane the idea will be be to arouse you to such a state that you might go and try some of his stuff. If you go, "Well, Gil Kane sure sounds good. Now, how about I dip my eyes in  some sweet, sweet Tony Daniel magic!" then I have failed.

Or as Johnny Cash put it somewhat more succinctly:

"Did you forget the folk singer so soon? And did you forget my song?"

We are in fact a couple of posts into "Gil Happy!" already so we have avoided the whole here's what I'll be doing oh no I won't rigmarole this time out.

There'll be other stuff too but there will definitely be more Gil Kane and always, always more COMICS!!!

"Your Uniform Makes You An Erotic SHADOW.." COMICS! Sometimes It's A Family Matter!

Firstly, fans of Jog's fine writing on the works of Howard Victor Chaykin are directed HERE. Everyone else gets this. No, there are no refunds. Stop asking me that. Anyway, this...

Photobucket "Mrs Eisenmann, you're trying to seduce me."

FLYER Plot and art by Gentleman Gil Kane Script by Howling Howard Victor Chaykin Coloured by Steely Steve Oliff Lettered by Worried Willie Schubert Originally appeared in LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #24,25 and 26 Batman created by Bob Kane DC Comics, 1991-92 ($1.75 each)


Originally appearing in LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT in 1991/92 Flyer proves that The Past is another country and that continuity is tighter there. Let it suffice to say that the care and attention to detail in the Nu52 continuity is so desultory that it only makes sense when considered as a vile and cowardly attack directed solely at the sanity of Rascally Roy Thomas. Other than a sadistic assault on everything a fragile old man holds dear it makes no sense. Anyway, I don’t want to get into that whole continuity custard pie fight I’m just pointing out that continuity is at the heart of this comic series and although Chayky Kane© get to produce their own tale it is set as firmly and flagrantly in the then DC continuity as the Cullinan I is set in the head of the Sceptre with the Cross. I may be overstating things there, maybe, but be assured that with LOTDK a great deal of editorial effort was expended ensuring the continuity canvas was so tight you could bounce rice off it.


Gil Kane (after David Mazzucchelli)

At this point in the DCU the sine qua non of Bat continuity was Mazzucchelli and Miller’s monumental BATMAN: YEAR ONE (B: YO). Maybe it still is (who the Hell knows!?!) Using B: YO as the root of all sequels worked out okay back then what with it being recognised as being one of the few examples of genre comics perfection. On a more dismaying note it is also one of the even fewer examples of a genre comic’s success being matched by its quality. While the caped crusader’s adventures continued in their usual manner in the usual monthlies LOTDK featured short arcs by high toned creators. Each discrete story focused on a period prior to the then current Batus-quo with a view to filling in the gaps with contradictions being actively discouraged. A commitment to continuity and also to quality; apparently it is possible. Certainly in Flyer both quality and continuity are present. It’s a Chayky Kane© Joint so the quality is self evident to all with the nous to recognise it Actually so is the continuity, so much so it can seem a little stifling. In the end though Chayky Kane© manage to create something uniquely theirs. It’s a very odd thing but it’s recognisably a Chayky Kane© thing.


Flyer answered the prayers of everyone who had read B: Y1 and wondered about the fate of the chopper pilot. Yes, the one whose craft was engulfed by the bats Batman summoned to cover his escape shortly after he punched a cat-hating man through a wall. No doubt crippling the cop from the waist down and leading to the disintegration of his marriage and an empty bedsit life with only a hot plate and tear stained photos of his estranged son as solace. Until that is he was run over in front of some orphans by The Joker (having now cut his own cock off and stapled it to his face like a wee fake nose) in a clown car powered by the blood of Mother Theresa. That’s not this story. That’s a Scott Snyder story and it’s about family. Flyer, however, is about the chopper pilot we were all worried about at the beginning of this paragraph.

Photobucket David Mazzucchelli

PhotobucketGil Kane

Predictably enough he (the flyer!) suffered catastrophic physical ruin and was only saved by virtue of the fact that his Mum was working on a government weapons programme based on advances by Nazi scientists with said advances being brought to bear to build him a jaw, a lower leg and a flying suit or two. As usual in these stories his mother turns out to be an unrepentant Nazi driven insane by her own (hopefully. Jesus, Howard!) unrequited lust for her own father resulting in a mind-soilingly twisted love-hate relationship with her own son. Naturally she uses her own tech-enhanced son to lure Batman into her randy grasp; his physical and mental perfection having made Bats the ideal candidate for helping her turn her well-maintained womb into an Ubermensch dispenser. Babies, there. I’m talking about Bat-babies. Weirdly, Batman declines her kind offer. There’s a fight and it all ends in tears. Mostly hers. And it actually is about family. A lot of HVC’s stuff is about family but a lot more of it is about the monied elite mucking the hoi polloi about as they are charmingly wont to do. Because they can, see. So that’s okay.


Flyer is, in fact, the first Batman tale written by HVC. He would go on to write many others but here we can see the first shaky steps towards laying out the issues he would use the character to explore. Because HVC has a very particular take on Batman, or more precisely HVC has a very particular take on Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne is of course rich and being rich he is powerful. HVC’s work is very concerned with the rich and powerful and the effect they have on the world. I may have mentioned that before. In all likelihood I will mention it again. I'm set in my ways, okay? While HVC usually assigns the monied elite the villainous role Bruce Wayne forces him to stretch a bit and try to find a sympathetic approach to the privileged. This doesn’t come easy to him but he makes this work to his advantage by shunting his concerns onto the Bruce Wayne character. This gives Bruce something to mull over while he isn’t being punched, punching back or being mauled by a bawdy cougar. He doesn’t really come to any real conclusions but it’s enough that Batman doesn’t just accept he should punch people in the face, because. Underneath all the raunchy nonsense and pulp trappings HVC always remembers to provide something to engage the brain. The balance is a bit off here though, largely due to Mrs Eisenmann who steals every scene she’s in and having stolen it probably tries to force it to make Aryan babies.


Gil Kane helps here with a fabulous level of artistry where the demented NILF is concerned. Obviously using Graduate era Anne Bancroft as his cue Kane builds a character whose body language fully plays into the turbo raunch and psychotic mind mess she embodies. Whenever the menopausal supremacist appears with Batman Kane depicts her with eyes glazed with lust and sporting a dirty smirk like a haus frau on a hen do when the boy dancers break out the baby oil. HVC’s overheated and fantastically deranged dialogue is turbid with erotic fervour and in combination with Kane’s body language brilliance result in one of the great lunatics of comics.


This is ‘90s Kane so it isn’t as much to my tastes as ‘80s Kane, but it is Gil Kane and any Gil Kane is good Gil Kane but any Gil Kane after the ‘60s is pretty great at the very least. By the ‘90s though the world is changing and Kane’s art hasn’t kept up in certain areas, particularly the area of technology. So while his architecture, anatomy and action are all as flabbergasting and flowing as ever it’s hard not to agree with the text when it describes the Flyer suit as looking like a “cheap Japanese robot”. HVC hisownself might be having an impish dig here. This strikes me as something he added on seeing the pages rather than an explicit request for Kane’s art to fulfil. After a dense and confident opening chapter Flyer starts to resemble Kane and Wolfman’s (GilWolf©!) Superman work in ACTION comics. Upon reading those delightful comics recently it was hard not to get the impression that Marv Wolfman was being dragged behind the runaway horses of Kane’s art desperately trying to regain the seat and steer the whole shebang in the general direction of sense. Yes, I imagine Marv Wolfman got more than a few new grey hairs trying to explain after the fact how, because Superman had spun around very quickly indeed (for the umpteenth gorgeously illustrated time), everything was okay now. I get the impression here that HVC was a bit on the back foot when the pages came in and had to vamp more than a little. He does it well, I'll give him that. Nifty footwork all round.


A dead giveaway that HVC’s script is not King is present in Kane’s breaking of HVC’s Golden Rule on more than one occasion. No, calm down, this Golden Rule is not something mucky from a ‘70s bath house but rather HVC’s repeatedly stated belief that a scene should only change on the page turn rather than within the body of the page itself. It’s a simple rule and a good rule and it’s hard not to imagine Kane’s flouting of it as his cocking a snook in HVC’s direction. It’s possible (pure conjecture this) that Kane was gently asserting his authority. HVC had been his assistant in the past on two occasions so there might have been a playful little power game being enacted. A cheeky little reminder. Mischief seems to be present, but good natured mischief rather than its sour cousin malice. Two old friends pissing each other about a bit.


One of the best things about Flyer is a thing that appears on none of its pages but is apparent in every page since none of them would exist without it; HVC and Gil Kane’s shared history. Yes, it appears not only comics have continuity but people too. Before Flyer Kane and HVC had had a parting of the ways. Why is none of our beeswax, what counts is they healed the rift before it was too late. Which is kinda heartwarming, aw yeah. And on that note here's the popular singer and terrible dresser Mr. Elvis Aaron Presley to play us out ....

A word of thanks now to Mr. Charlie Hodge, who brings me muh towels an' mah wattah. And mah COMICS!!!

Have a good weekend y'all!

"Believe!..BELIEVE!!" COMICS! Sometimes Imagination Changes EVERYTHING!

I hear your pain, people! January is a real nutcracker ain't it. What we need, as  Bonnie Tyler advised, is a hero. And, yes, Virginia, there are still heroes. It's just sometimes you have to root about in the back issue bins to find 'em. I found one. I found a Hero. Photobucket

What's the best Superman story ever, ever, ever? It's a question that has occupied many minds for many decades; a real bone of contention with the self explanatory importance of the issue justifying every brutally curtailed friendship, divided family, and more than one instance of burning dog poo being forced through someone's letterbox. Sorry about that, Mom, but it's an inflammatory subject and fiery faeces spoke more eloquently than I ever could. Look, tempers can run high. Luckily, I'm here to solve the conundrum for all time for I, as ever, am totally right once again. It's a gift and yet, at times, a curse. Don't envy me too quickly. Anyway, the best Superman story ever, ever, ever is: Photobucket

ACTION COMICS #554 "If Superman Didn't Exist..." Art by Gentleman Gil Kane Written by Mighty Marv Wolfman Coloured by Bountiful Ben Oda Coloured by Tiny Tony Tollin DC Comics, $0.95 (Apr 1984) Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

The title is such an obvious construction that you've probably already completed the missing words signified by the ellipsis. "...then it would be necessary to invent him." And you would be 100% correct. Take a bow! But this is ACTION COMICS where Superman already exists so what, by the ruby rays of Rao, the dingdangdong is going on here? Specifically here being ACTION COMICS #554 and unbeknownst to most ACTION COMICS #554 is the glorious summit of  Gil Kane and Marv Wolfman's run on the title.  A run which I believe has just been collected in a hardback from DC Comics. A book which Babylonian Brian Hibbs will gladly sell you in return for cold hard cash. That's how he works, it's too late to change him.

When I first read this comic a while ago though I didn't know it had been preceded by a long build up, it was just this weird story where there was a world without a Superman but which sorely needed a Superman. It had, in fact, been a world with a Superman but due to a series of quite magnificently preposterous events throughout GilWolf™'s run (I later learned, because it's never too late to learn!) Superman had been erased from the fabric of this (his) world as  thoroughly as your mother erased those adolescent stains from the fabric of your underoos. Although in this case via the use of  "power pyramids" rather than a boil wash and some sturdy tongs.


The details don't matter, all that matters is that the course of world history has been changed retroactively. Not only is there no Superman there is no "heroic concept"! This is because there is no War and never has been. Rather depressingly this has led to an agrarian plough level civilisation of scattered settlements. People wear baggy clothes and sport bowl haircuts like some horrific world-wide Madchester revival and while technology is rudimentary they have, astonishingly, developed corrective eye wear. On balance the drab content of life in 20th Century Earth in exchange for millions of years of suffering and violence is probably a fair trade but, crucially, it has sadly left Earth open to a full on conquering by an alien race. Which was said alien race's plan all along. All resistance has been removed, yea unto the very fish that crawled onto the shores and walked. Cunning, perhaps but  thorough, most definitely.


The source of earth's salvation comes from two wee tow-headed scamps renowned about the township for their useless dreaming and pointless imaginings. Two tow-headed scamps by the name of Jerry and Joe.

Jerry and Joe.

Oh, you worked it out. (Someone give that guy at the back a hand. 'Sokay we can wait.)

Jerry and Joe realise that to resist the invaders the Earth needs a hero so they hide in a cave and chalk upon the walls the design of this man who "...comes from the stars...", this man who's "GOOD instead of being BAD..." this man with "...a Cape...to CATCH THE WIND!" This man ends up being Liberace, who while very entertaining isn't much use against an alien invasion, so they try again and come up with "...a...SUPER MAN!".  This seems more like what they were after and in short order this creature birthed from the human imagination and powered by human belief sets all things aright as Superman is restored to the world and all is well again. Of course, that mean's War is back but so are aspirin and microwaves but, hey, comme ci, comme ça, amiright? That's rhetorical, we already established I am always right back at the top.

Now, this isn't exactly what you might call a realistic premise. It's not terribly likely is it? I mean I love this comic but even I don't think you can imagine Superman up, believe in him and he will exist and sort it all out. I've been trying long enough and hard enough I've given myself a hernia and - no dice so far. I will keep you posted though. No, it's not supposed to be realistic. It's supposed be inspiring and entertaining. Heroic even. And I like that. I like that a lot.


Most (but not all) of the success here can of course be laid at the feet of Gentleman Gil Kane whose art is present in all it's '80s prime. The '80s was, for me, Gil Kane's Shining Time. The time when he had the inking nous to finally do his own pencils justice and the editorial clout to ensure he got to ink himself. While in previous decades Kane was often a hostage to unsympathetic inking the '80s saw Kane unleashed as never before. Yes, I quite like Kane's '8os art. I see '80s Gil Kane in much the same way as '70s Kirby (KOIBY!!!) - a thing unique and entire unto itself. Both styles are so complete that no further development is desirable or, I strongly suspect, possible.  Even Kane's shortcomings work to his advantage here. His perfunctory space ships and goofy aliens play into the childish naivete of the narrative. For it is an intentionally childish narrative I think. It's often thought that people like Kane and Wolfman were unsophisticated storytellers since, um, craft apparently only got invented ten years ago or some such horseshit which flatters the current generation. But there are many levels of sophistication and one of these levels is surely being able to pitch a tale to appeal to children while at the same time winking at adults.


Here kids can thrill to the scrappy youngsters showing the adults what's what despite the initial disbelief, get a little fearful frisson when the parents die, be reassured when it turns out the aliens were kidnapping not killing the adults and, finally, soar with Superman as the impossible becomes possible because two children dreamed a dream which became real.  Adults of course can get a kick out of the goofy antics as well as enjoy the cheeky moments of humour such as when Joe enquires after his parents and an adult just blandly states, "They're probably DEAD. Buried under the RUBBLE." or when the plucky pair outline their insane plan only for a kid to say "But that makes no semnffmfm" his latter words muffled because an adult has just shut him up with a stern hand. GilWolf™ are not unaware of the daffiness they are dealing in and handle it with a balance and surety easily missed. But you can't miss, no one could miss, the glory of Kane's Superman. Initially appearing as a chalk drawing (an amazingly detailed and preternaturally accomplished chalk drawing - a lot like a Gil Kane drawing (another wink)) Kane's Superman is revealed in an amazing sequence that thrums with power, so much so that Wolfman has little recourse but to resort to the Greatest Wordsmith of all  - The Shakespeare. The insane and impossible magic achieved by combining words and pictures and imagination reaches its magnificent apogee here. After this things necessarily fall off a bit (or the risk would be that the reader's head would melt) but Kane's Superman is still like unto a God or at least a Roman Hellenistic statue of a God. A stutue that moves, because, boy, does Gil Kane's Superman move. When he's in motion, and he is mostly in motion, Kane's Superman is fluidity and power in perfect union. Kane's Superman looks delighted to be alive. Kane's Superman is so transported by the act of living even his cape blooms like a physical flare of joy.


And as Superman flies off to heal the world on a monthly basis once more the story shifts scene a final time to another pair of kids. An older pair but a pair engaged in a similar exercise of imagination. The exercise of imagination known as creation. Two kids called Joseph and Jack.

Joseph and Jack.

Joseph and Jack.

'Nuff Said, right?

And maybe that, in the end, is why ACTION COMICS #554 is the greatest Superman story ever told. Because although it could only whisper it tried to tell us the truth. About creation. About imagination and the people who have it and where the real original value in all these creations, all these billion dollar making creations, resides. It resides in the act of creation and it resides in those who have imagination enough to create.


For Joe and Jerry.

For Joseph and Jack.

For the creators.



"You're Wrong. I'm Not STRONG." COMICS! Sometimes Legends Are Involved!

Merciful Minerva! It's a content-pocalypse here at The Savage Critics! Below this there's Amazing Abhay taking a comic by the throat in his talented teeth and shaking it until its neck snaps. Beneath that there's Gentle Jeff Lester using duct tape, tact and sheer pluck to bring you, via technology, not only the cheapest comics...but the best comics! Beneath that there's Bewildered Brian Hibbs vs. online journalism! Bang-on Brian Hibbs cracking the heads of several  cape comics together was also a thing that occurred! As ever, earlier in the week the best Commenters in any seven dimensions you care to mention took on the Shipping List and, of course, Gentle Jeff and Garrulous Graeme's audio bliss in Podcast form remains in geosynchronous orbit with all our ears! Photobucket

And then there's me talking about a comic Howard Victor Chaykin and Russ Heath did in 2005 that no one read. The Savage Critics: For people who ain't lookin' for nothin' but a good time because it don't get better than this! (Everybody loves Poison! Except people with taste!)

LEGEND #1 to 4 Written By Howard Victor Chaykin Illustrated by Russ Heath Inked by Russ Heath & Al Vey Lettered by Rob Leigh Coloured by Darlene Royer & David Rodriguez for Wildstorm FX Wildstorm, $5.99 each (2005) Inspired by Philip Wylie’s novel GLADIATOR


One of the totally bizarre things about comics in the 21st Century is the continued expectation broad based multi media content providers and dispersal merchants (formerly known as: writers) have that they will shock the living shit out of us all with the concept of superheroes but in the real world. It’s utterly nutty because none of them seem (seem) aware that that’s how this whole crazy capes mess started up in the first place. It had to really. You start with the real world and you put your superhero in it. All the rest, all the goofiness, all the magic all the “silliness” that is popularly taken to define the Cape genre comes after and from that initial starting point. Not being in the real world isn't inherent in the capes genre. Well, no more than any other genre. Opening myself up to a cascade of corrections, but in the interests of getting somewhere before you start catching flies, I’m taking Superman as the first superhero. Stay with me here, because LEGEND is “inspired by Philip Wylie’s Novel GLADIATOR”.


And so too is Superman inspired by Philip Wylie’s novel GLADIATOR(1930), certainly to the extent that Wylie threatened to sue Jerry Siegel in 1940. There are a remarkable number of similarities between the two works but there are also a number of significant differences, that’s how “inspiration” works, I guess. If memory serves, the only really totally outlandishly fanciful element in the first published Superman story is...Superman; he is a superhero but in the real world. Similarly GLADIATOR, Superman’s inspiration, involves a super-powered individual but in the real world. You see what I’m saying here though? The very genesis of the capes genre is in actual fact superheroes but in the real world. You might think this is just a tiresomely roundabout way of telling modern comics creators to knock it the fuck off but it isn't just that. No, it’s also a tiresomely roundabout way of introducing LEGEND by Howard Victor Chaykin (HVC) and Russ Heath.


LEGEND is a comics adaptation of Wylie’s book and was published by Wildstorm Comics in 2005. It isn’t the first adaptation as the novel was made into a feature film in 1938. Since this flick starred Joe E. Hill Brown the flexibly faced funnyman familiar to fans of Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959) and apparently revolves around wrestling it’s probably less than faithful in its adaptive duties. Probably more faithful was the abortive adaptation by Rascally Roy Thomas and Tony DeZuniga titled Man-God in MARVEL PREVIEW #9 (1976). I have used 'probably' there because I've seen neither of them. Nor have I read the original novel. I have, however, read LEGEND by HVC and Russ Heath. A lot of people haven’t read LEGEND as it was published in 2005 by Wildstorm Comics which, at that point in history, was the publishing equivalent of being buried alive.


By all accounts this one’s a pretty accurate adaptation, with just a few necessary changes to update it to the 50’s thru the ‘70s. Vietnam is swapped in for WWI for example. Chaykin and Heath's’ book consequently is light on the heroics and high on the super. After all, Siegel and Shuster brought the cape but Wylie brought the super-man. Wylie’s creation at no time battles for Truth, Justice or any Way be it American or not. His book takes the case of an extremely gifted individual called Hugo Danner and examines how someone so special could ever fit into the moribund world of us normal dreary folks.


It’s the kind of book people who feel they are themselves gifted tend to write. By all accounts (i.e. Wikipedia) Wylie was quite gifted, or at least a very thoughtful individual who used his writing as a device for disseminating his thoughts rather than primarily for producing entertainments. He probably felt a greater sense of achievement in having popularized the raising of orchids than being midwife to genre informed by wonder and imagination. A genre into which his book was adapted by HVC and Gil Kane, except,that's right, it wasn't. I'm glad you are still awake. But it almost was...


Like many comics LEGEND isn’t perfect because Gil Kane didn’t draw it. But at least LEGEND had a fighting chance of being drawn by Kane. HVC developed LEGEND with Kane in mind. His hope seems to have been to nudge Kane more towards work in the hard-boiled pulp vein of Kane’s self-published HIS NAME IS…SAVAGE (1968). Kane seemed to naturally gravitate towards fantasy, a direction HVC felt worked against Kane’s desire to tell more socially relevant tales. When Kane, with Rascally Roy Thomas, took on the monumental task of adapting Wagner’s Ring Trilogy into comics HVC’s reaction was a big fat,“So?”. Unfortunately the fantasy genre was entirely simpatico to Kane’s desire to avoid research. LEGEND with its broad backdrop of several decades and visual dependence on verisimilitude would require, oh yeah, research and so Gil Kane declined. This is of course a colossal loss to comics and me personally but I try not to be too bitter. After all the project would eventually be drawn by Russ Heath. I like Russ Heath but what did HVC make of his work? If only there were a pricey collection of interviews with him I could plunder. Oh, Wait…

Costello: Was there anything you changed in the text of your adaptation to account for the difference in Kane’s and Heath’s styles?

Chaykin: No. It is what it is, and Russ just took it and ran with it. At the time Russ and I were neighbours…He would come over to the house and show me pages. I was delighted, particularly because I’d assumed for a number of years that Russ had lost it because the work he’d been doing for most of that era was shit, and it turns out he was phoning it in because he was lazy. He was capable of doing great stuff and just wasn’t bothering. Russ is really old. He dated Fred Flintstone’s sister. He’s still a very vital and incredibly talented guy, one of my heroes. And he’s got carrot coloured hair. He looks like he was molested by a carrot.

(Extract from an interview with Brannon Costello on pp.270-271 of HOWARD CHAYKIN: CONVERSATIONS Edited by Brannon Costello (University Press of Mississippi, 2011))


While I’m not as enamoured of Heath’s work here as HVC is, it is pretty good stuff that serves the material well. His grounded and reality-sourced work gives the whole thing a necessary level of detachment. A warmer, more intuitive style would risk the reader being swamped by viscera. Heath’s style may be the equivalent of a man in a lab-coat pointing at genitals while declaiming their Latin nomenclature but this is entirely necessary. The earthily robust script by HVC is so ripe with a raunchy lust for life that even Heath’s distanced work ends up crossing its legs and dabbing sweat from its top lip. If Gil “Sugar Lips” Kane had drawn this the thing would have had to be printed on asbestos and available only to blinded castrati. Yes, Chaykin’s script obviously brings to the fore things better left to the aft in Wylie’s day.


Despite the almost absurdly heated erotic activity, profane humour and offhandedly extreme violence the book seems to embody all the things Wylie initially intended. It remains the tale one gifted man’s progress through the various layers of his society in search of a place in which to fit. A fruitless search as it turns out. Chaykin remains true to the spirit of the thing even if the execution is totally Chaykin-esque. By Chaykin-esque we are of course talking the Chaykin of popular perception (the urbanely disillusioned priapic satyr with the gift for page design and filthy wit) rather than the Chaykin of reality (the respected professional, loving partner and twinkly grandfather noted for not suing people who write about him on the Internet. Cough.)


Initially, I admit, I wasted quite some time by typing several thousand words in a jocular journey through each of the four issues highlighting particularly preposterous points but then I went and binned that.  Sacrifice. In order for the books to still retain plenty of surprises  I have instead written around the work while (hopefully) letting the work speak for itself through the selection of images scattered about this dreary chuff. I think they say far more, far better than anything I could ever conjure about the very particular, very (very) melodramatic pleasures of Howard Victor Chaykin and Russ Heath’s LEGEND. It’s highly unlikely that you've ever read a comic like LEGEND but it’s highly recommended that you do. Seriously, this comic should be available on the NHS as treatment for depression. For all its sincerity and intelligence LEGEND is some pretty funny stuff and it’s never funnier than on the last page. You can probably find these comics for cheap and that’s probably worth doing because LEGEND is VERY GOOD! C'mon, when was the last time you read a comic about a man with a cock as big as a cat...but in the real world! Exactly. Have a jolly splendid weekend and remember to read some COMICS!!!

"Choke! Gasp!" Not A Podcast! A Sort Of Smörgåsbord! Look, It's Free. Okay?!?

Hey now, hey now, hey now, now! I hear there's no podcast this week because Gentle Jeff is blowing up balloons and Glamorous Graeme is helping out by asking him how that there balloon blowing up stuff is going!  It's a skip week is what I'm saying. Dry your eyes, o child of woe, for I have written about some stuff I bought with my own money and read with my own eyes. Yes, Superman's in it. A bit. Oh, I will make you miss Jeff and Graeme, I will make you hunger for them..!

Photobucket (Panel by Steve Ditko & Len Wein from THE DEMON in The Fatal Finale, Detective Comics #485, 1979, DC Comics)

BANG! And we're off!

54 By Wu Ming Translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside William Heinemann Ltd, 640pp. (2005)


Being the first words you'll read: "'Postwar means nothing. What fools called 'peace' simply meant moving away from the front. Fools defended peace by supporting the armed wings of money. Beyond the next dune the clashes continued..."

This is the slightly disappointing second novel by Wu Ming who are an Italian collective of writers with a, to my eyes, somewhat Socialist bent. I guess they like to kneecap any possible success as they write under the name Wu Ming nowadays rather than the name Luther Blisset; which name adorned the cover of their first, very successful, novel Q. If you wanted to read a sort of James Ellroy American Confidential take on The Reformation then Q's your (very good) book. If you want to read a book about that time America got all in a snit about tea or something and turned their backs on the truly magical and sublime people of Britain then Manituana's your book. I haven't finished that one yet but it is quite fascinating, particularly as, so far, it is treating the British as the good guys which is a novel tack to take. I mean, not even we think we were the good guys in that one. (Don't tell the Yanks though, they'll just go on about it. Lovely people, though.) 54 attempts to illustrate the neglected landscape of European Socialism following Stalin's death together with the spread of organised crime and the cancerous spread of the then nascent technology of TV. Sadly as impressively ambitious as it was 54 never really gelled for me, although it was always at least entertaining, and never more so than in the excellent chapters in which Cary Grant goes on a covert mission to scope out Tito's intentions. They are really, really good at capturing Cary Grant's Cary Grantiness so that brings it up to GOOD!

Speaking of Cary Grant, does anyone else remember that time in the '80s when Gil Kane drew ACTION COMICS and Marv Wolfman wrote Clark Kent just like Cary Grant?

Photobucket (Panel by Gil Kane & Marv Wolfman from ACTION COMICS #546, 1983, DC Comics)

Totally Cary Grant! Kudos Marv Wolfman!

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING By Julian Barnes Jonathan Cape, 150 pp. (2011)


Being the first words you'll read: "I remember, in no particular order:  - a shiny inner wrist;  - steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;  - gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house;"

A stately paced shaggy dog story where the plot creaks under the weight of Barnes’ beautifully observed evocation of a time and, perhaps, a kind of person now lost in history. So effective is Barne's precise and poised prose in evoking the humdrum human of the recently deceased past that the whole thing runs the risk of, to anyone who isn't British,  seeming like some alternate world. The book beautifully undermines the idiocy that The Past was Better by gently and only allusively revealing ways we self servingly corrupt, and in our turn are corrupted, by memory. The polite manners and sedate delicacy often latched upon as defining post-war Britain  are revealed as merely a thin coating of anaglypta over the usual seedy world and all the lovely ways we find to hurt each other. This is how people lived, but. more tellingly, it's how people remember themselves as having lived. All the restraint concerning matters of courting will no doubt be particularly opaque to a generation which, The Internet shows me, believes a romantic encounter should end with the man naked and apparently so enraged that he appears to be attempting to tear off his own cock and fling it in the upturned face of a kneeling woman who looks like she recently lost a fight with a teacup full of wallpaper paste. Kids today! Unlike modern mating rituals this book was VERY GOOD!

LIONEL ASBO: STATE OF ENGLAND By Martin Amis Jonathan Cape, 288 pp. (2012)


Being the first words you will read (errors intentional): "Dear Jennavieve, I'm having an affair with an older woman. Shes' a lady of some sophistication, and makes a refreshing change from the teen agers I know (like Alektra for example, or Chanel.) The sex is fantastic and I think I'm in love. But ther'es one very serious complication and i'ts this; shes' my Gran!"

I was going to do a whole thing about how editors don’t even edit books properly never mind comics anymore, because this book has the occasional jarring slip that suggests Martin Amis isn't entirely au-fait with the world outside his window. Things like the prominence given to studying for O-Levels when O-Levels no longer exist. And then The Tories only announce they are bringing them back! Coming soon because you demanded it: poor houses, indentured servitude, cholera, drought de seignior, rickets and powdered wigs. Martin Amis has been at pains to point out that the publication of his latest book isn't a fond fuck you very much to the country he’s just left in order to live in someplace called America. This one, as in most Late Amis (Late because he's in his sixth decade, so enfant terrible, my arse), is a bit wobbly; the hideously repellent balanced with the cloyingly sentimental to not entirely satisfactory effect but then, not entirely unsatisfactory effect either. As in Any Amis the prose is just blinding, pal. That's the real reason for cracking an Amis and he doesn't disappoint here. He's mainly concerned with putting the case forward for education as a more viable form of self improvement than, y'know, becoming famous for fucking nothing in point of fact. Safe and well trod ground that may be but it does allow him to dust off his spats and tip his boater for a series of comedic showstoppers involving a Jordan manqué. For non-British visitors; a Jordan is like a Kardashian but without the classiness or self respect. Excitingly a Jordan sells more books than a Martin Amis, despite the fact Jordan doesn't even write them. It’s not a secret either. She’s a brand see so that’s okay. That’s where all your branding gets you. Branding’s what they used to do to cattle. And even cattle had the sense to struggle. Cows, there, I’m mainly talking about cows, horses too but mainly cows. When people who say "brand" without an inadvertent bit of sick slipping out and down their lost and hopeless face dream do they dream of beige formica? I’m not talking about ants there, either. Lost you now, haven’t I? Branding. Christ, I’m going to have a little sit down now and collect myself. Branding. Christ. What? Oh, the book's GOOD!

Blimey, sounds like that silly sod wants to get a grip! While we're waiting for the lithium to kick in what we need is a page of Superman from ACTION COMICS. This is written by Marv Wolfman and drawn (ILLUMINATED!) by Gil Kane. It's a lovely page, a real sweet piece of storytelling and extraordinarily educational about how to slap down images on paper and give them power and purpose. I like to pretend this is a complete story called "Just A Man."

So, without any further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Marv Wolfman and Mr. Gil Kane will now present..."Just A Man." Please remain seated until the performance has ended.


(Page by Gil Kane & Marv Wolfman from ACTION COMICS #544, 1983, DC Comics) You didn't like that? Geddouda heah, ya bum! Y'heah me! G'wan!

SAVAGES By Don Winslow Arrow, 320 pp. (2011)


Being the first words you'll read: "Fuck you."

Yes, that takes up a whole page and is indicative of the fact that Winslow does a whole heck of a lot of fiffing and faffing around with the prose as usual. Sometimes he seems keen to find the sparest prose of all; where words have to be hefted and weighed in the mind to glean their true cargo of meaning; a slow and meditative process counter to the break neck reading speed their staccato brevity encourages. James Ellroy would usually get thrown in round about  here thanks to the magnificently uncompromising White Jazz but that’s only because he’s (nominally) crime too. Really it's Richard Christian Matheson who's the guy who already perfected this method (see Dystopia). Of course having made such an arrogant declaration I am suddenly clammy with the almost certain knowledge that there's probably someone else who did it even earlier.  Someone I haven't even read! Winslow's eruptions of inventiveness allow Savages to drop straight into screen play mode at times. As sophisticated as this no doubt is, were I to understand why it occurs, it is certainly awfully convenient. Because, oh, it seems this is soon to be a motion picture presentation. This explains the  chummy high-five to Oliver “The Hand” Stone.

Photobucket "Oh my bleddy hand! My bleddy, bleddy hand! BLEDDY! BLEDDY! HELL!" (Image stolen from pulpinformer.blogspot.co.uk.)

Have you seen The Hand (1980)? It’s that one where shout-fuelled syndicated newspaper cartoonist Michael Caine is angry at his wife and puts his hand out of the car and a truck lops off his hand and he gets a prosthetic hand and his missing hand starts to kill people he doesn't like, or maybe his hand doesn't maybe it’s him because he has anger problems and this is called suspense, boo! That one. Most people like it because it is trashy fun,  but I always watch it because I can never remember who did the drawings used as Caine’s artwork. It’s Barry Windsor Smith.  I have written it here where I can come and look at it anytime so I need never have to watch The Hand again. The best thing of all in The Hand is when the hand attacks someone and we see it from the POV of the hand. The POV of the hand. Hand’s don’t have eyes, that’s all I’m saying. Mind you, detached hands don’t crawl around and strangle people either, I guess you win this round, Oliver Stone. I have now written hand so many times it no longer looks right. The Hand is OKAY!, I give it one thumbs up. (This is what you wanted! This is the stuff!)

Nonsensical asides about enjoyable bad horror films aside, I enjoyed Winslow's language based larks sufficiently to graciously bestow the benefit of the doubt. Yes, he'll be no doubt pleased to hear that, on the whole, I'll give him credit for playing with form rather than debit him for lazy assedness. Because what with all the violent sauciness and saucy violence this is some pretty entertaining salad dressing. I mean, book.  This book is about a threesome of young people who are talented, intelligent, violent and just generally youthfully awesome. However, they are undone by their belief that you can run a drugs business like a Ben and Jerry’s eco-hashish outlet. Because it turns out that people involved in the drug business are just not very nice at all. They will put you right in touch with the ecology though, yup, once they’re through with you you’ll definitely be a part of the old ecosystem and no mistake. So, no, Savages isn't Power of The Dog but it is GOOD! Apropos of absolutely nothing here's a rare Alan Moore SWAMP THING piece to finish on:


(Taken from DC COMICS PRESENTS ANNUAL #3, 1984, DC Comics. SWAMP THING was created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson. N.B. Len Wein was editor of SWAMP THING when Alan Moore took over so I can only imagine he was okay with Alan Moore writing his creation.  Y'know, in case anyone was wanting to fling that particular pie at Alan Moore.)

And that's your lot, Buster.  Didn't we have fun, kids? Did we have a time?. Didn't we almost have it all?

Hey, no one forced you to read it! Unless they did, in which case I can only apologise for my callous thoughtlessness.

Next time: COMICS!!!

"But Hold Onto Your Watches And Wallets!" COMICS! Sometimes Gil Kane Did 'Em!

Bit pressed for time, I'm afraid. So here's:Gil Kane,  Superman and some words about them both. Maybe some of it makes sense, that'd be a turn up for the books! Cheers!


Doo-doobie-dee-doo (Doo-BE-DOO!) SUPERMAN SPECIAL #1 “Behold! The Ultimate Man!” Story & Art by Gil Kane Lettered by Milt Snappinn Coloured by Tom Ziuko Edited by Julius Schwartz DC Comics, $1.00 (1983) Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster


I totally missed all Gil Kane’s work on Superman in the ‘80s so my excitement upon hearing the news that these works were to be collected by DC between two covers (available on 26 Dec 2012!!) was both genuine and verging on the unhealthy. There were two factors preventing me from experiencing them at the time; the first being availability on the spinner racks which I pestered with my teenage presence. See, back when phones were stationary and you had to go to them, I was too young to get to Leeds on the bus (this took an hour and a quarter on the 508 bus, but due to a space-time paradox around Armley only 40 minutes on the X84 bus. Or they may have taken different routes. You can take all the magic out of life, you know.) to an actual comic shop dedicated to comics. Consequently I had to make do with what ended up on the market stall. This never included Annuals or Specials (like this one). The other factor was money. It usually is. I did sort of lackadaisically pick up an issue here or there in later years but I knew eventually they’d be collected. And some thirty years later I have been proven right. Patience there, that’s what that is. So as a sort of taster to the amazing delights of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN: GIL KANE here’s some words about Gil Kane and Superman.


Other than the selfish reasons outlined above I also hope the book will bring Gil Kane back into the ever-evolving comics conversation. I don’t hear his name bandied about so much these days, which is a shame verging on an injustice. Because the big thing about Gil Kane is that his later stuff is totally great. (He died in 2000 so the ‘80s is Later Kane). Throughout his career he usually moaned about his inkers but lacked the confidence to do it himself. By the ‘80s though he was by all accounts pretty pleased at the results he was achieving. And so am I. SUPERMAN SPECIAL #1 is a bit of an anomaly in that Kane gets the writing credit also. Over 43 pages he shows you why his art is what he’ll be remembered for, and why that art is worth remembering and, yes, celebrating.


Because to be fair, the writing isn’t very good. That does not mean it is unentertaining. In fact, the very broad strokes of significance it uses to disguise the underlying daftness create a kind of insanely joyful read. The story has a loosely three act structure. In the first act Superman fights a big “energy-being” which mindlessly feeds on “whatever matter it can suck into its maw.” This dangerous drainer is dispatched by Superman spinning around very fast indeed. Kane throws some hard science in our face by telling us that this maneuver has generated “counter energy” and “nullified the vacuum.” It also appears to have killed the poor slobby thing. There are several elements introduced here that will be repeated through the remainder of the pages; the danger of the thirst for power, the power of spinning around very fast indeed, gibberish as science and Superman being okay with killing.


No sooner has Superman returned to earth than he is faced with a maverick politician who has holed up in the White House and is going to press The Button. And, yes, it is a literal Button. I very much enjoyed the bit where the guy says “All that is bad proceeds from weakness” and the fact that although he is nothing like Richard Nixon he is just like Richard Nixon in the same way that Anthony Hopkins is/is not like Richard Nixon in that Oliver Stone film. U-Turn is it? In the final and by far the lengthiest act Superman is faced with a scientist who takes science into his own hands and accelerates his own evolution for the good of the world; he will of course be telling us all what to do from now on. He chucks a load of natural disasters at Superman.


These take up the bulk of the issue as Superman defeats each in turn (yes, spinning around very fast indeed is again involved), before just dumping Superman in a “twisting vortex” at “the end of the universe”. Superman worries a bit before he remembers that he can spin around very fast indeed and he “explodes outward in a shower of creation-making incandescence!” Also, inadvertently reminding every male reader of their adolescence. Superman gets back to find that the scientist is having another go at his evolutionary ray so, as you would, Superman fetches the “lens of the world’s largest telescope” which he positions between the scientist and the beam and so burns him up like a sadistic child with an ant. Although he looks more like a singed chimp. Luckily Superman tells us what to think of all this baffling nonsense and flies off. If that’s not your idea of a good time I don’t know what is.


The real value of SUPERMAN SPECIAL is that it acts like a showcase for Gil Kane’s art. Every panel on every page has something Gil-tastic going on inside its borders. Even the borders are worth noting. If there’s a better example of how to use diagonal separations of single panels in order to enhance coherence and pacing, then I’d bet who ever is responsible read this comic. Inside the borders the pictures themselves are pitch perfect examples of perspective and positioning. This is a comic that can get right up into a face so that the beads of sweat are defined individually, and can also pull back so far that Superman can be seen traveling to the “rim of the universe” within a single slim panel. Gil Kane’s got scale down pat, pal.


He’s also got deadlines and alimony payments so he takes shortcuts aplenty. But these are Gil Kane shortcuts. So, while there’s a certain familiarity to the Kane-Tech (is that a camcorder with a sieve stuck on?) he twists the details and ups the scale to render it alien and unfamiliar. The greatest testament to Kane’s skill is that, in more panels than should be strictly healthy, he renders the contents as little more than texturally suggestive abstractions of what he is telling you you are seeing. Much of the art here may have its origins in expediency but the results are astonishing in their effectiveness. It’s difficult to see how anyone else could make so little mean so much. But then no one else was Gil Kane. Certainly no one else had Gil Kane’s way with textures. There’s an epicurean delight, the kind only comics can provide, to be had in Gil Kane’s textures. His people seem moulded from an extremely friable cheese and they inhabit a world sculpted from some combination of nougat, steel and water like fractured glass; a purely comic book world where power is visible in the form of bizarre swirls and sworls of milky amoebas.


Like Elvis, Gil Kane had his hits, and Gil Kane's hits are here. On the cover alone he’s given you a floating head and a tortured soul with legs akimbo, a power amoeba and that glorious smoke like squid ink. Inside there are the Gil-tastic thrusting and flailing figures that thrum with anatomical excellence; grace and goofiness combined in the ever rewarding Gil Kane style. Perhaps he did these things out of habit, perhaps they were shortcuts themselves, but to read a Gil Kane comic without them would be to see Elvis and not have him do Suspicious Minds. Every Gil Kane comic is a performance. Every Gil Kane comic is Elvis in Vegas. There are good nights and bad nights but SUPERMAN SPECIAL is a VERY GOOD! night. The kind of night where Tom Jones is in the audience and Priscilla hasn't run off with her karate instructor yet. I miss Gil Kane, and not just because when he changed his name from Eli Katz he chose the best surname of all.

So, yeah I’ll be talking about him some more probably. Something to look forward to there, eh?

Okay, probably not, but you can still look forward to COMICS!!!

"I'm A MAN, And I'll LOVE You As A Man Loves A ..." Comics! Sometimes There's A Film Out As Well! (John Carter!)

So, yeah, there's a John Carter film out on Friday. Not that I ever get to the pictures anymore but, hey, you might! In the meantime you could read this about some comics featuring the same character. It's a thought isn't it. Probably one more than went into the writing of this. Hey, can CGI do this?: Photobucket

No, no it can not. You lose CGI!

I guess I should start with a disclaimer: I'm not really an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan; indeed I don't even know if I have read the source novels for these comics. So if you're looking for an informed Burroughsian monograph you might want to jump off right here. What follows is just some old gimp prattling about some comics, because what he really likes is comics. And prattling.


EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS’ JOHN CARTER OF MARS: THE JESSE MARSH YEARS Drawn by Jesse Marsh. Scripted by Paul S. Newman. Foreword by Mario Henandez. Collects Four Color Comics #375, #437 and #488, originally published in 1952 and 1953 by Dell Publishing Co., inc. (Dark Horse Books, 2010, $29.99)


I bought this book because once I'd seen the cover it refused to entirely leave my mind and was constantly hovering there urgently pressing me to purchase it at some point. I think it was the really solid no-nonsense blacks that fixed the image to the page and into my mind. At the time I had been admiring Don Heck's solid blacks and this seemed to play off and feed into that brief flare of interest. Also, there was something very Gilbert Hernandez about it what with the intentionally(?) stilted poses , the harsh crease lines and the occasional smattering of dots for texture. So I bought the book with some Christmas money and prepared to be disappointed. Obviously the cover was just a lucky image that Dark Horse were using to lure credulous punters like myself into buying reprints of justly forgotten chaff as the Hollywood version of the material slowly hove into view.

I was wrong.


Mars circa 1952.

This book was fantastic. Jesse Marsh is fantastic. This isn't actually news to anyone except me it seems. He's actually on the list of possible inductees into the 2012 Eisner's Hall of Fame. Casting my mind back I recall interviews with Alex Toth and Howard Victor Chaykin (who is also on the 2012 Hall of Fame list. What a dilemma!) in which both mention Jesse Marsh. Still, it's one thing hearing about a comic artist's work and seeing it.

Actually looking at it Marsh's work looks totally ahead of its time. Wait, let's back up. I'm not saying anyone could mistake these comics for modern comics. The very nature of the material works against Marsh in this regard. For a start each of the three reprinted comics are tasked with adapting an entire Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel in 32 pages. There's no time for shilly-shallying, no room for indulgences like splash pages, very little chance for a panel's art to be unadorned by narration or dialogue. No, Marsh has to fit it all in to a series of pages consisting of (roughly) 6x6 grids where his greatest indulgence is to let two such panels bleed together either vertically or horizontally. And he doesn't get to do that all that often. Cramped and constricted as he is by the format Marsh has the technique to deliver the equivalent of putting on a musical in an elevator. That's where the 'ahead of its time' bit comes in; in the actual art.


The Incomporable Dejah Thoris - Circa 1952.

There's a colossally impressive understanding of design on show. Because Marsh is working in the highly strictured world of '50s comics (and Gold Key were particularly inflexible in format) Marsh is unable to do anything about the actual page design but the design of the panels themselves are beautifully chosen to balance the elements within them. And (get this) the actual elements within the panels are further forays into design by an artist who was clearly just so incredibly good at what he did he could do the incredible just to keep himself amused. What other reason can there be for the pictures/sculptures/scenery with which Marsh surrounds his characters? His sculptures and pictures are so good I have the suspicion that they are actual object d'art that only my lack of breeding and education prevent me from identifying. The fact they change from panel to panel (even when the scene has not changed!) suggest Marsh was just larking about. But, what larks!


Martian Action! Circa 1952.

But, no, you aren't going to mistake these comics for the cutting edge of Now. Marsh's work does have its failings but although the characters may be stiff  it must be said they are distinctive. The "incomparable" Dejah Thoris seems to have been modelled on the actor Emily Watson which can't be right? John Carter isn't terribly expressive but he does look like himself in every scene and doesn't look like anyone else and you can't always say that about even modern comics. Although the big thing everyone gets sweaty about with Burrough's Mars novels is that everyone is nudey rude except for weapons and jewelry everyone here is fully dressed.  So, I guess purist might balk but all the incident, adventure and momentum of good pulp entertainment remain intact. Given the task of illustrating the functional script of Paul S. Newman Marsh manages to not only provide work which does so but at the same time carves out room to indulge his own idiosyncrasies and interests in a way which actually serves to enhance the work rather than distract or undermine its primary purpose: to entertain.


John Carter circa 1952.

One for the folks interested in form rather than content, or the talent rather than the character if you like.  VERY GOOD!


EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS’ JOHN CARTER OF MARS: WEIRD WORLDS Art by Sal Amendola, Murphy Anderson, Gray Morrow and Joe Orlando. Written by Marv Wolfman. Introduction by Marv Wolfman. Collects stories from Tarzan #207-209 and Weird Worlds #1-#7, originally published in 1972 and 1973 by DC Comics. (Dark Horse Books, 2011, $14.99)


In 1971 as a hedge against the possibility that super-heroes had outstayed their welcome DC comics cast about for properties to replace them. Tarzan and the other ERB properties, including John Carter, caught DC's fancy since they were still adventure themed but more sober in appearance than super-heroes. This tells us that people are always predicting the end of super-hero comics and sobriety is pretty subjective. Good news for drunks, then! Great news for The Incomparable Joe Kubert who took the lead on the project. While his creative talents were focused on Tarzan he took on editorial duties for the other ERB character, such as John Carter. According to Bill Schelly's Man of Rock: A Biography of Joe Kubert (which I am filleting facts from in an attempt to look knowledgeable) Murphy Anderson and Marv Wolfman got the John Carter assignment because they were big John Carter fans. Apparently Michael William Kaluta wanted the gig but Murphy Anderson got it, mostly because he shared an office with Pappy Joe Kubert and was asked first. Not exactly high drama but that's what happened.  (You could have guessed Granite Joe Kubert had edited these stories because he can't help sticking his inky fingers in the Gray Morrow chapter on on pg17-22.) Anyway, the comics that resulted are collected in this book.


Mars circa 1972.

Given the fact that fully two decades separate the work in this volume and that contained in the Marsh volume discussed earlier it's interesting to see how the comic art approach has changed. There's a lot more variety in page design in 1971 with panels inset into double page splashes, flashback panels with wobbly edges, decorative chapter headings a la old timey newspaper strips and on and on. What's clear is that the artist has far more freedom to control the visual presentation of the material. In between Marsh and Anderson's work something new has appeared: pacing. There is no pacing in the Marsh book; there's no opportunity for it. But in this volume it's evident that the writer/artist are able to actually pace their material. The material may have set limits as to length but these limits are far more generous than those Marsh was labouring under.

Photobucket The Incomparable Dejah Thoris circa 1972.

There's also a lot more freedom with regards to sex'n'violence. In the '50s material the incomparable Dejah Thoris was wrapped up like a shoolmarm but by the '70s she's certainly giving herself a good airing. Don't worry though because in the '50s John Carter was decked out like a Hussar but by the '70s he's all raggedy loincloth and musky muscles so noone's playing favourites here. Poor old Jesse Marsh had at best a couple of panels to depict savage action on worlds unknown but Anderson et al fare better with plenty of room to swing a Thark.


Martian Action! Circa 1972.

The ERB books didn't really sell very well and after a while moves were made to bring in cheaper foreign artists which probably explains why Murphy Anderson's contributions stop on pg. 68 and Sal Amendola finishes off the rest of the book. I'm not saying Sal Amendola was foreign (to American shores) but I am betting he was cheaper.  After the somewhat traditional art preceding it the book suddenly explodes into a Barbarellatastic mindmelt of groovy layouts and gear designs, man. Well, it tries to. Alas, Sal Amedola is hampered by a lack of talent but the surfeit of ambition he possesses almost overcomes this. I said "almost". It isn't very pretty but I admire the energy; that's about as good as it gets with the Sal Amendola stuff. He does, however, chuck in some nudey rudery for the hardcore Burroughs' fans which is amusingly cheeky of him.


John Carter circa 1972.

As a complete TPB this one disappoints in that it starts off with some strong and solid work by industry vets but is compromised halfway through by market considerations to ultimatley produce a collection that I can only call OKAY!


EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS’ JOHN CARTER OF MARS: WARLORD OF MARS Art by Ross Andru, Bob Budiansky, Sal Buscema, Ernie Chan, Dave Cockrum, Ernie Colon, Frank Giacoia, Larry Hama, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Bob McLeod, Frank Miller, George Perez, Walt Simonson, Mike Vosburg and Alan Weiss. Words by Chris Claremont, Peter Gillis, Bill Mantlo, Alan Weiss and Marv Wolfman Foreword by Michael Chabon Collects John Carter, Warlord of Mars #1-#28 and Annuals #1-#3 originally published in 1977-79 by Marvel Comics. (Dark Horse Books, 2011, $29.99)


Pulp got Gil Kane early and pulp got Gil Kane but good. Although he was often opining that Comics needed to mature itself in terms of subject matter, he, himself, was never able to escape the grip pulp held on his imagination. Gil Kane was a great, great man but his tastes could tend to the unsophisticated. Luckily since that was the very problem he berated comics for he may have been held back creatively but it didn't hurt him commercially. Particularly in the '70s when pulp's stock was strong in the comics market and he had plenty of juice himself.


Mars circa 1977.

In the '70s Kane spent a lot of time working up books he'd be interested in doing, starting them, realising he couldn't produce pages fast enough to pay him enough, leave the book, work up a book he's be interested in doing...and rinse, repeat. He was like the goddamn Littlest Hobo of comics or something ("There’s a voice that keeps on calling me. Down the road is where I’ll always be").  I'm being 'exasperated' because that behaviour makes it really hard to get good long runs of his stuff in collections. Obviously I know that's really not any concern of Gil Kane but  equally obviously it does mean I'm glad to have this volume.


The Incomparable Dejah Thoris circa 1977.

So, yeah, my primary interest in this volume is the Gil Kane stuff. That's a good 190 pages. After that my attention started to wander a bit but I can assure you that the Gil Kane on these pages is some good Gil. As usual his natural glory is clothed by inks by someone else which isn't ideal but hardly a deal breaker. Most of the time the inks are by Rudy Nebres or other Filipino artists of the period. Which is fine as this  lends everything an ornate quality appropriate to the pulp material. It helps make up for Kane's shortcomings. Oh, I love old Gil I do, I do but he did suffer from visual generalisation quite a bit. C'mon, we speak freely here; his future buildings and his ancient buildings are only distinguishable because the latter have some cracks in and a tree growing out of a window while the former doesn't. So, while it's usual to bemoan the fact it isn't Kane on Kane action for this volume it works out okay; the ripe inking lends everything a distinctive character Kane would probably have omitted if left to his own devices.


Martian Action! Circa 1977.

Where Kane doesn't need any help is in portraying the supple violence of well honed bodies in motion, communicating the lusty allure of his sexy ladies and his even more alluring men and basically creating such an atmosphere of raw physicality that it practically removes the readers glasses and tells them they are beautiful. Or something. I like Gil Kane's art, it sends me. Of course like any good bad boy he's gone when he's had his fill and Kane's departure makes the book stumble a little but the continued use of Rudy Nebres gives it enough visual continuity to keep it upright and interesting. For a while anyway. Storywise it's just the usual pulp stuff. In that it's more important that things happen than that the things that happen actually make sense. In fact the more outlandish and sense defying the better. The Headmen of Mars by Bill Mantlo and Ernie Chan is a particularly proud erection to the joys of sheer momentum and excess over intellect. It's pulp and it's written as such so the words don't treally bear close examination. Ah, but that's what they want you to think. If, however, you do pay attention to the words you find that EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS’ JOHN CARTER OF MARS: WARLORD OF MARS is in fact lubricated with sly innuendo and at times this reaches such steamy excess that it wouldn't be too great a surprise if the pages dilated at the touch of your enquiring fingers or let loose a soft sigh at the insistent pressure of your questing gaze.

I'm not joking. Not only are John Carter and the Incomparable Dejah Thoris continually on their way to/from the boudoir but you get the impression that if it weren't for all these Master Assassins of Mars, zombie hordes, air-pirates of Mars etc. they would be quite happy just letting John Carter make good on all his multiple breathy promises to "love her as only a husband can love a wife", "kiss her as she has never been kissed before" and "get right in there and root around like a monkey looking for nuts".  This reaches delirious heights on p. 306 when the text reads:

"With a SKILL that still occasionally SURPRISES me--I MATCHED course and speed with Dejah's flier and DOCKED the two craft together. A moment later I was at her ENTRY HATCH--With a cry torn from her SOUL, she sprang into my arms --I will not DWELL on what happened next."

Oh, do dwell, Chris Claremont, dwell!


John Carter circa 1977.

And you know what? That's great! The John Carter and The Incomparable Dejah Thoris actually resemble a couple with a working sexual attraction. Okay, it might be somewhat exaggerated in a pulp stylee but maybe if my muscles were three times as powerful as any other males I imagine I'd be a lot more popular too.

I really liked this book but I think I've made it clear that that that's primarily because of the presence of Gil Kane, a tendency for my own interests to run to the unsophisticated and an appreciation for healthy smut. If you do not share these pleasures you probably won't find this to be GOOD!

(Apparently Marvel have released the same comics in a colour over-sized Omnibus. They are probably even better in colour. Sighhhhhhh.)


Mars. The Incomparable Dejah Thoris. John Carter. ('Mars Action' about to occur) circa 1977.

Have a good weekend and remember to read some COMICS!!!