"Oh, Jumping Joe!" COMICS! Sometimes They Appeared Daily In Newspapers While The World Burned!

Hello again! What could be more alluring than a look at some old timey newspaper strips from the days when World War Two was still in full swing, strips by a man who has been dead since 1994! I shall capture that Youth Market, yet. Anyway, this...  photo HazrheadsB_zpsbb7b6ee6.jpg

FRANK ROBBINS' JOHNNY HAZARD VOLUME ONE: The Newspaper Dailies 1944-1946 By Frank Robbins Introduction by Daniel Herman Hermes Press, $49.99 (2011) Johnny Hazard created by Frank Robbins

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When it comes to comics posterity can be a bit of an ass. Case in point: Mr. Frank Robbins esq. (1917 – 1994). Now, Frank Robbins was an artist, sorry, an Artist. And this might be difficult to believe if you think of the things we usually think of when we think of Frank Robbins. Because what do we think about when we think about Frank Robbins? Some of us might think of his work on DC’s The Shadow or maybe the fact that he is credited as starting Batman comics on the long, dark road to gritdom, but mostly let’s face it, effendi, most of us remember him for The Invaders and stuff like this:

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Which is where I, in a younger incarnation, first saw Frank Robbins’ art and fell for it hard. No, not so much the issues where Vince Colleta’s horrific inking dehydrated Robbins’ art to the point of dusty incoherence, rather the issues where Frank Springer put the, er, spring back in Frank’s step with lovely slabs of black and a wholly sympathetic feel for the effects Frank Robbins was after. And the effect he was after was “aliveness”. Robbins’ art was primarily concerned with imbuing a sense of life within his static images. And on the pages of Johnny Hazard the reader gets to see Frank Robbins achieve this effect in every panel. Because on the pages of Johnny Hazard Frank Robbins is flying solo. Uncompromised by the penciller/inker division of The Big Two the reader is allowed to appreciate Robbins’ art fully.

The sense of life is most apparent in Robbins’ humans. Very few of his figures stand stock still as though they have a stick holding them up, instead they are usually portrayed in a way which seeks to fix their existence in that particular moment caught in his particular panel, and to further imply that before that panel and after that panel they will continue existing even if we never see them again. Arms are folded, shoulders cocked, hands gesticulate, faces crinkle and open appropriately and that’s just when they are at rest. When in motion Robbins’ figures really move. But Robbins’ genius here is in his ability to convey the sense of life via the inanimate objects. Everything from the clothes characters sport to the environment around them and the machines which seek to destroy both contain bold yet elegant cues to their texture. With a style as heavy as Frank Robbins’ style these anchors to reality enable even the most casual of readers to enjoy the content.

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And the most casual of comics readers did enjoy Johnny Hazard. Robbins began the strip in 1944 and it folded in 1977, a hardly negligible run. The strips in this book cover 1944 – 1946 and so Johnny Hazard is firmly set in World War 2. It isn’t a war strip though, it is an action/adventure strip set in war time. Nonetheless Robbins’ does on occasion briefly acknowledge the horrors of his setting with the death of a mother, the exhaustion of the pilots and the reactions of survivors to losses incurred. Mostly though Johnny Hazard is entertainment set in war time. This may be a tough sell for some but the war was still underway for the majority of the time Robbins produced these strips and it’s not usual for the Home Front to desire a conflict’s complexities and true horrors to be presented while they are still up to their necks in it. I thought the material did a decent job of being entertaining without ever slipping into gung-ho jingoism. The war in Johnny Hazard is a hard war and while the essentially screwball nature of Johnny’s antics might distract from this it is still apparent.

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But the war was a long time ago and so were these comics and much has changed in the meantime. Consequently old comic strips have the added burden of being read by potentially revisionist eyes. Racism, we’re heading into racist territory here. Great. And I’d say Johnny Hazard comes off pretty well. Which is more than the Japanese Armed Forces does, but then, and it really is very important to note this, they were the enemy at that particular point in time. And still, and still, despite the garbled syntax, period appropriate slurs and occasional buffoonery on display Robbins’ is really just emphasising the villainous nature of Johnny’s opponents in a typically melodramatic style suited to his genre. Individuals are singled out for this treatment so as to allow the audience to boo and hiss but the wider context of the strip still conveys a sense that the Japanese are a formidable enemy. Any Chinese characters encountered are resourceful and brave indicating that it isn’t not being Caucasian that’s the problem; rather it’s being the enemy. Although the Chinese do have that silly syntax too. Mind you so do one of the Yanks and a French lady. I guess Frank Robbins hated everyone! No, I don’t know, racism? There’s a bit. You're young and strong, you'll cope.

And what of the ladies how do the ladies fare in Johnny Hazard? The ladies fare surprisingly well in Johnny Hazard. They are all capable, feisty, determined and other such characteristics which are generally positive. Woman wise here Robbins’ art seems erotically imprinted by fever dreams of Veronica Lake and is less heated and torrid than it would later become when Joan Crawford apparently became Robbins’ epitome of eroticism. Sure, there’s a woman who uses her feminine wiles but then again there’s another woman who is a hard as nails resistance fighter who could care less about romance. One stops tanks by flashing her gams while the other gets the most startling scene of violence in the book; upending a bowl of hot coals onto the head of her nemesis and just flat staring down at him as he dies screaming. Yeah I reckon Frank Robbins has plenty of range when it comes to the ladies.

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The stories are okay, too. They are though adventure serial yarns with a sense of humour some might see as verging on the cornball. One pivotal plot point revolves around someone’s name being phonetically similar to the word “marijuana”. Which is okay by me. Still, for every pilot who thinks he’s in the navy and speaks and acts accordingly to not entirely hilarious effect there’s a masterpiece of visual comic staging like this:

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Which is apt because on every page of this book the visuals trump everything. The real appeal of this book is the art by Frank Robbins. All else is just a vehicle for the delivery of Robbins’ art. Which is appropriate because Frank Robbins was an artist. Sorry, an Artist. This is made clear in the sparse but dense blurb adorning the book about the man himself. This tells us that amongst other achievements at the age of nine Frank Robbins was awarded a scholarship to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, he later illustrated for Life and The Saturday Evening Post and his paintings were exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art amongst other such tony venues. So, it would be a bit of a shame if we remembered Frank Robbins primarily for this:

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Frank Robbins' Johnny Hazard Volume One: 1944 – 1946 is not only cumbersomely titled but is also pure Frank Robbins and is thus a much better way to remember him. Although I bet the ‘70s volumes when his Sweat’n’Shadows style was at its apex are well worth waiting for. And wait I shall. In the meantime Johnny Hazard, despite the meat’n’taters nature of the packaging and maybe a smidgen of racism, is VERY GOOD!

Who knew Newspapers don't just contain fish'n'chips, sometimes they contain - COMICS!!!


Comics of 8/18

Yah, like Lester I was thinking about how good ol internet time made it seem like we never posted. What's up with that? I've mostly been trying to unravel a Mystery in the UK the last few days -- I think I have most of it sussed, but I'm still not sure HOW to solve the crime, as it were.

I also finished TILTING (appears on Friday on Newsarama), and have started making notes on Deppey's NuMarvel essay in the new Journal. Damn, that's one fine issue.

Plus I dinged 30 in CoH, and am now playing the How Long Until I Get Bored and Quit game (I doubt I'll make it to 35, is all I can say, but we'll see -- really this is all a function of running out of Content and having to Street Hunt too much at the higher levels)

I'm going for my bi-annual haircut in a bit, so let's see how many comics we can bat away first....

For some reason, IE won't connect to blogger this morning, so I'm doing this via Opera, which means I don't have easy itals. I probably should learn the HTML commands, but I'm lazy and I'll just use CAPS for stress and titles this post instead.

(After the fact note: When I went to publish this, Opera wasn't working with Blogger either, so you won't see this until I get home tonight)

SIMPSONS #97: Usually I'm the big singer of Ian Boothby's praises -- he's usually the Funniest Writer in Comics, or something -- but I thought this issue was kinda flat and boring. The feud thing really didn't work -- maybe because it's too much of a staple cliche. Anyway, EH.

SHE-HULK #6: Some cute and decent Ha Ha in a few places, but the art, being mostly done in Marvel House Style reduces the humor for me by tons. OK.

NEW INVADERS #1: Too much time spent introducing the characters in far too obvious ways -- the whole first half of the issue passes in a weightless plot free fall. The second half is also mostly plotless as the flat characters revolve around each other in obvious ways. It's not BAD or anything, but, unless you really have a hankering for these characters it is pretty lifeless. For $3, I have to go for a high AWFUL.

TERRA OBSCURA V2 #1: I don't really care about any of these characters, and I'm surprised anyone else did enough for there to be a second go round here. Having said that, I like this much better than V1, and I'll go with a strong OK.

BIRDS OF PREY #72: You might have noticed most of this week's DCs came bagged with a SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW CD. Well, you didn't notice this at CE, at least -- I unbagged all of the copies (that was a fun 45 minutes I'll never get back). One the other hand, this means a certain VP gets a fun package on his desk on MOnday morning. They filled up an entire DoubleWide Diamond box, sheesh! Anyway, this comic mostly felt like marking time to me -- not much happens except setting things in motion for NEXT issue, which, while fine, makes me only say OK

HAWKMAN #31: This is well done comics, but I think this arc (while adding to the Dead Girlfriend in the Refrigerator count [sorta]) really shows why a traditional Hawkman comic really doesn't have much for legs -- at least with the Ostrander HAWKWORLD run they were able to get into neat outsider-looking-in concepts. But this Hawkman is pretty much Just Another Hero. *shrug* OK

GOTHAM KNIGHTS #56: "War Games" 4 Lots of super-villains. They don't do much. There's an attempt to go with the throughline of GK's "Wow, Hush is a badass!" thread, but he's not, really, and he comes off far more as Chump to this reader. Batgirl also feels written very wrongly here. My fav bit is at the beginning where all of the bosses finish each others sentences. Only in a comic book, man. AWFUL.

ROBIN #129: "War Games" 5. Tim shows everyone in the whole city that's he's a super bad-ass, which makes me hope all the more that the speculation of his returning to the mantle at the end of WG (and/or IC) is wrong. My fav bit is right at the last 2 pages where a seemingly invisible gunman shoots the chick, then seemingly decides it's not worth (despite being, y'know, invisible) to follow up and make sure she's, y'know, dead or something. A very low EH

BATGIRL #55: "War Games" 6. Almost nothing happens in this one -- the overall WG plot isn't moved ahead one fraction of one inch. Still, Sean Phillips art makes this the first chapter I've genuinely liked LOOKING at, so OK.

TOUCH #5: Suddenly, the book starts moving right before it gets axed. Huh. OK

FRACTION #5: This one on the other hand just feels like it's standing still. Nice art, but this can't end fast enough. A very low EH.

DC COMICS PRESENTS: THE ATOM: Damn, they both picked a "Julie saves the day!" turn. I liked the Gibbons story better, mostly because Waid "cheats" on the second one and only has the cover be a brief one-panel bit in the story. Still, OK

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #631: Quite a bit harsher than one would expect from a Superman story -- I don't know I'd let a kid near this one. Having said that, very strong and moving, really only undercut by the sequence of Supes hearing that last shot. How does he hear that from halfway around the world when I bet there's guns going off in, say, Detroit too? Meh! OK.

EX MACHINA #3: Finally, something to get excited about! This is a really terrific book, and one of the rare recent example where we're gaining new readers with each and every issue. Between this and Y, THE LAST MAN, Vaughan is cementing himself as one to watch. VERY GOOD.

EXILES #51: I also quite liked this -- the happy twist at the end was both unexpected and was celebratory of heroism. I don't feel that often enough in super-hero books, which is pretty fuckin' weird, don't you think? GOOD.

FANTASTIC FOUR #517: An "Avengers Dissembled" crossover (Which is about as "red skies" of a crossover as you can get), and, to celebrate the sales increase, the book is now $2.99. Huzzah! A perfectly reasonable issue, but the previous points left a nasty taste in my mouth, so I'm going with a patently-unfair AWFUL. (If it weren't for that, I might have gone for a low GOOD)

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #64: IN every technical way this issue is just as good as the book has ever been -- but something in me somewhere says this arc was a mistake. None of this was anything I wanted to see, and it largely strikes me as pandering. So, foo, let's settle with EH.

MANHUNTER #1: There's nothing for it but to compare this with BLOODHOUND, because the two books seem to occupy a similar "space" in the DCU. This one tries way way way to hard to set up it's moral dilemma, and given that it seems to be moving to "Murder is fine, as long as it is scum!" rather than anywhere else, I'm going to give this the big thumbs down. The art is nice, the writing is adequate, but I don't want to read about super-powered murderers, thanks. There's really nothing here, no mystery no suspense, that makes me want to come back for issue #2. The worst part is this is naturally going to sell better to the retailers because of the legacy name, and the suggestion somewhere that this ties into IDENTITY CRISIS somehow (though I can't seem to find that citing now that I'm looking for it -- I know I read somewhere that there was a connection though). Sorry, though, this is AWFUL.

DOCTOR SPECTRUM #1: Not only does nothing happen, but it doesn't happen between panels of earlier issues of SUPREME POWER. Wrong way to do a spin-off, kids. EH.

SUPREME POWER #12: Meanwhile JMS does a good job with the formalist four-panels-across story. Things are starting to move here, and I like what he's doing all in all. VERY GOOD.

JSA STRANGE ADVENTURES #1: Period work, which always fits the JSA. Nice nice art from Kitson. But the story feels a bit light for the HOLY SHIT, $3.50?!?! Man, that's too much. EH.

Right, be back with more tomorrow, I think -- that's what I've read so far. Whatta d'you think?