Once again, I need to say a few words about a few books to get them off my desk and onto the bookshelf. Others may have already reviewed these, and if so I hope links will be provided. Either way, I'm as interested as ever in what you guys think.

 

Showcase Presents Wonder Woman Vol. 4  (DC Entertainment, $19.99)

Some Legionnaires have had unkind words about previous Wonder Woman Showcases, but I mildly enjoyed them as A) weird artifacts from another time, and B) stories I haven't read before. (I'm always a sucker for "B.")

 

Not this time. Maybe it was because I'd read most of these stories before, or maybe it was because all the creators involved knew their time was coming to a close, or maybe this iteration of the Amazing Amazon had simply run its course. But I found these stories tedious and was anxious for each to be over. These stories are especially egregious given that they were originally published in the late 1960s, when their thudding ordinariness and archaic gender roles stood in stark contrast to huge cultural shifts going on around them, not just in other comics but American society in general. 

 

But it's not just how old-fashioned these stories are. They are also really, really boring. Wonder Woman fights the same old generic foes (Kanigher's favorites: Submarines, dinosaurs, alien invasions, giant portmanteaus (Fisherbirdman!) near Paradise Island), and continuing the absolutely unconvincing central romance (Steve Trevor remains a macho imbecile, Wonder Woman remains chastely devoted to him without showing the slightest romantic feeling). Which leads into my last complaint, which is that Kanigher seems to be running on fumes, just regurgitating the same elements and plots we'd seen a million times before. You could swap the covers on some of these books with Wonder Woman books from a decade earlier, and not notice the difference.

 

Fortunately it was the end of that era.This volume takes us to the end of Robert Kanigher's 21-year run on the title, and the next volume -- if there is one -- will pick up with the Emma Peel version by Denny O'Neil and Mike Sekowsky. Ross Andru and Mike Esposito were already gone; according to the table of contents Irv Novick (who tried to ape their style) drew the last five issues (Wonder Woman #173-177, Dec 67-Aug 68). I wonder if he didn't take over sooner, though, because to my eye he clearly drew at least two stories in the three-story Wonder Woman #172.

 

As noted, I had read most of these stories before. But that was 30 years ago, and I'd hoped I'd enjoy them more.

 

Mighty Samson Volume Three (Dark Horse, $49.99)

Might Samson Volume Four (Dark Horse, $49.99)

The best thing I can say about these two volumes is that they complete for me the Silver Age Mighty Samson series, something I've always wanted to do. Other than that, they're pretty pedestrian. The stories, largely uncredited, are unimaginative and cover the same ground as the first two volumes. The art varies from awful (Jack Sparling) to mediocre (Jack Abel) to amateurish but promising (Jose Delbo at the beginning of his career).  

 

Return to Perdition (DC/Vertigo, $14.99)

This book, by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty, is a sequel to Road to Perdition, the graphic novel by Beatty and Richard Piers Rayner. I never read the first one, but I can only hope it wasn't as stultifyingly boring as this one was.

 

Return stars a Vietnam vet who was a POW, but is rescued and returns without any psychological problems whatsoever. He is recruited by the Men In Black to kill criminals for the government, and does so quite well, without any problems. He then discovers that his father and sister, who were supposedly killed by criminals, are actually alive and on the run from same crooks. SPOILER: Father and son team up, kill the criminals easily, and ride off into the sunset. No problem.

 

The book could have used a few more problems. And if the oddly linear (this is crime noir?) storyline wasn't boring enough, Beatty's art is as stiff and lifeless as I've ever seen it. And since Beatty's art always looks to me like Dick Giordano on quaaludes, that's saying a lot. 

 

To be fair, I'm looking at an advance review copy in black and white, so maybe color will help this story. But I doubt it.

 

Old City Blues (Archaia, $14.95

Giannis Milonogiannis writes the first book of a proposed series about cops in the near future in New Athens, located adjacent to the "Old City," which is the original Athens, rendered uninhabitable by an earthquake. Street cop Solano (our hero) is paired with two "Mobile Guns" (cops in flying armor, like Iron Man) to investigate a series of corporate murders that may have international implications. They determine all the murders are (gasp!) committed by one guy, but they don't know where he is. SPOILER: The author spends several pages establishing "Old City," which serves no obvious purpose or setting. "Old City" is also in the title. Gosh, where oh where could the bad guy be hiding?

 

Yeah. Virtually everything you expect to happen, happens. Well, except that the hard-boiled cop and the tough (female) Mobile Gun don't fall in love, despite saving each other's lives. Yet. Any bets it'll happen in Volume Two? (I don't really expect any takers.)

 

Brain Boy (Dark Horse, $49.99)

I expected this book, which collects the six existing Brain Boy books from Dell in the early '60s, to be awful. To my surprise, I found it mildly charming.

 

Four Color #1330 and Brain Boy #2-6 follow the exploits of American teenager Matt Price, who has powerful telepathic and telekinetic powers due to an electrical accident his mother suffered while he was in utero. He is recruited by a CIA agent with mental powers of his own to help fight foreign powers who have their own "brain boys." Matt is a secret agent, and actually acts like one, eschewing Spandex or James Bondian gimmicks to infiltrate other countries anonymously, usually as a foreign exchange student or tourist. And it's kinda fun.

 

There are some clunky bits in these stories, which are all written by Herb Castle (a new name for me) and drawn by Gil Kane (first issue only) and Frank Springer. There's some typical U.S. ethnocentricism, sure, some uncertain storytelling and more than a couple unintentionally funny bits. As an example of the latter in one scene, when Matt is levitating up some stairs, he thinks "Wish they didn't lock up the elevators at night. This is hard work!" when the obvious solution -- simply walking up the stairs -- is right in the reader's face. And for another, the art on the first issue's cover depicts the blond, teenage Matt as a dead ringer for the dark-haired, adult Robert Vaughn (Man from U.N.C.L.E.).

 

Still, you expect a little cheesiness in 40-year-old comics, and it wasn't enough to put me off on a genuinely interesting premise ... and one wonders if its appearance is a prelude to further adventures at Dark Horse.

 

Flash Gordon Comic Book Archives Vol. 5 (Dark Horse, $49.99)

This book wraps up Dark Horse's collection of the Flash Gordon adventures published by Gold Key, King, Charlton and Whitman. It's at pretty much the same level of quality as the other four volumes, and I don't have much more to say. It's competent but unremarkable work by writers Bruce Jones, George Kashdan and John Warner, and artists Frank Bolle, Gene Fawcette, Carlos Garzon, Al McWilliams and Al Williams. One thing that does set this series apart from the others is a three-parter (Flash Gordon #31-33, Mar-May 81) by Jones and Williamson adapting the Flash Gordon movie of the same year, and is substantially better than that hackneyed waste of celluloid. Other than that, it's mildly interesting reading, more important for historical reasons than artistic ones.

 

The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor Volume 3 (Dark Horse, $49.99)

I'm enjoying the Doctor Spektor reprints hugely for a couple of reasons, both of which are exemplified by this volume. One is that I didn't buy any of Gold Key's output in the 1970s -- I don't think my local distributor carried them any more -- so, as ever, I enjoy reading stories I haven't read before and filling in gaps in my comics knowledge. That's pretty much true of all reprints I've never seen before, even the gawdawful ones from the 1940s and '50s. Which leads me to my second reason for enjoying Doctor Spektor: It's not bad. In fact, it borders on good. 

 

Writer Don Glut, as has been discussed on this board before, was pushing a pea uphill with his nose at Gold Key in the mid-1970s. He wanted to do stories typical of the Big Two at the time (and now) -- stories with soap-opera pathos, stories that continued issue to issue, stories set in a larger interconnected universe, stories with an established supporting cast. You know, the stuff that was selling like crazy. But stuffy Gold Key was against all that; they wanted done-in-ones that were no more sophisticated (or scary) than your average 1950s Dell comic book. (Notwithstanding that Dell was no longer in business, and Gold Key itself was shrinking in sales, because those sorts of stories were no longer popular.) 

 

But, somehow, Glut managed some of that. He hinted at a larger universe in Doctor Spektor by referencing gods, demons and characters in other Gold Key books (most of which Glut wrote). He established a strong supporting cast for Spektor, which included a love interest, who -- astoundingly for buttoned-down Gold Key -- not only lived in sin with Spektor, but wasn't white! (She was full-blooded Native American.) And, even though Glut couldn't manage to make the book continue openly from issue to issue, he managed a couple of "To Be Continued" stories here and there and a larger tapestry of elements and themes that continued quietly in the background. 

 

This volume exemplifies all of that. References to Dagar the Invincible and other Gold Key books abound. Glut ceases hinting that Dakota Rainflower lives with her lover Dr. Spektor, and outright states it fairly often. He even manages a three-parter by turning Spektor into a werewolf, and talking his editor into continuing for three issues before the inevitable cure. And, believe it or not, there's even a guest-star role for one of Gold Key's few superheroes, Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, whose own book wasn't even being published any more. How Glut sweet-talked that deal, which he describes in his always informative Foreword, I'd like to have seen.

 

Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Venus Vol. 1 ($59.99)

It's been a while since I read this, which is unfortunate, because I didn't have strong enough feelings about anything found in Venus #1-9 (Aug 48-May 50) for it to stick with me. Probably because Atlas didn't stick to any kind of recognizable genre with Venus, but kinda jumbled them altogether.

 

I'd heard that Venus was at times a romance book, a fantasy book, a humor book and a superhero book. But what I didn't expect is that it would be all of those things at once! I expected a few issues of this genre, then a few issues of that genre -- you know, Martin Goodman shaking things up to reflect sales. But, no, Venus has all of those elements at once, making it somewhat schizophrenic.

 

Venus comes from Mt. Olympus -- which is evidently on Mars, which is unexplained -- and instantly becomes a writer at a fashion magazine, and instantly starts a romance with the editor, and just as instantly antagonizes the secretary who'd hoped to occupy both of those slots. Various dilemmas come up which threaten to show Venus as the amateur she is, which are solved by her divine powers, which essentially amounts to the power of love (and teleportation). 

 

Or something. I'm not really sure. Can anyone else explain it better? Anyway, this is such a baffling title that I can't wait for volume 2!

 

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age All-Winners Comics Vol. 4 (Marvel, $64.99)

This book finishes putting the entire All-Star Comics run back in print (reprinting All-Star Comics #15-21 and All-Star Comics Vol. 2 #1, which became All Western Winners with the second issue), and it's some of Atlas's better work of the time, although that isn't saying much. All-Star had the advantage of living up to its name, with individual stories of Timely's best characters -- Captain America, Sub-Mariner, Human Torch, Miss America and Whizzer -- who actually teamed up for the final two issues as the All-Winners Squad, Timely's only Golden Age super-team. (And why Martin Goodman waited so late to start one -- six-seven years after the Justice Society in All-Star Comics#3 -- and why he quit on the idea so quickly is still a mystery.) This book, like many Masterworks, also has an entertaining and informative Foreword by Roy Thomas. Also, I think this is the first example of postwar stories of Timely's Big Three before cancellation in the late 1940s. They're a little formulaic, but not bad.

 

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age U.S.A. Comics Vol. 2 ($64.99)

One thing about U.S.A. Comics: It's pretty much required reading if you're going to understand the recent (and truncated) All-Winners Squad: Band of Heroes miniseries. Here you see a number of characters who turn up in Band of Heroes that you pretty much don't see anywhere else in the 1940s: The Victory Boys, The Fighting Hobo (not to be confused with the nearly identical Vagabond), Jap-Buster Johnson, Sgt. Dix. These strips are, as you'd expect, just plain terrible. This book also includes the sole appearance of Blue Blade, who shows up in The Twelve.

 

There's also several strips featuring characters who do appear in other 1940s books, and as you'd expect, they are mostly a cut above: Captain America, The Whizzer, Black Widow, Destroyer, Secret Stamp. (OK, Secret Stamp is worse than terrible, and has no business being mentioned in the same breath as Captain America, but I had to group these characters somehow.) Black Widow is another of The Twelve's characters, and Secret Stamp, whose usual home in the 1940s was Captain America Comics is in Band of Heroes.

 

The upshot is that this book (reprinting U.S.A. Comics #5-8, Sum 42-May 43) has some historical significance. Other than that, my short review is that four strips (Cap, Whizzer, Destroyer and the one Black Widow story) are readable, and the others are not.

 

Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Strange Tales Vol. 5 ($64.99)

This is a pretty thin book, reprinting only nine '50s comics, minus any reprints (Strange Tales #40-48, Nov. 55-July 56). That's OK, though, because I would probably tucker out if there were any more than that -- these stories were published immediately after the Comics Code, and it's clear that all involved are still feeling their way in this new world and haven't quite found their stride. Despite the involvement of a lot of familiar and talented hands (Bill Everett, Joe Orlando, Steve Ditko, Bernie Krigstein, Dick Ayers, etc.) and some familiar but less talented hands (John Forte, Paul Reinman, etc.), these stories are pretty forgettable. Hopefully quality will take an uptick in the next volume, because that's really all I have to say about this one.

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...BTW , CC , I think that a fair porrtion of that Wonder Woman volume may reflect the " Golden Age " approach that Kanigher ( Because of the " BATMAN " TV show and the general " camp/nostalgia " craze of the era ??? ) adopted around...'65 ???...when he " had Andru/Espisito draw in a poor imitation of Harry Peter's style " and such concepts as tPaula Von Gunthel and the Princess's substitution for the real American woman Diana Price made their first reappearance in many , many , years...The " bare bones " approach of the Showcase would minimize the amounts of indicators of that !

The GCD says Irv Novick drew Wonder Woman #172, on the basis of records Julie Schwartz kept for Kanigher.

Cap, I was glad to see your comments on Showcase: Wonder Woman Volume 4.  I almost bought it today but decided on the Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck instead.  At some point, I'll probably pick up WW Vol. 4 anyway but you certainly validated my decision for the time being. 

The "Emma Peel"/"White" Wonder Woman phase is already collected in the Diana Prince: Wonder Woman series (4 volumes).  I would expect that this was the last of the Showcase volumes for Wonder Woman.  I figure that DC will probably concentrate on publishing more Chronicles instead, as they're only up to Vol. 2 in that series.  I also hope they collect the issues in which Diana return to costume, including The Twelve Trials of Wonder Woman, as I don't think there's a trade of those yet. 

Kanigher had probably heard arguments from fans that Wonder Woman was better in the Golden Age. Conversely according to Wikipedia's page on the Alley Awards the participants voted Wonder Woman "Worst Comic Book Currently Published" in 1961 and "Worst Regularly Published Comic" in 1964.



Luke Blanchard said:

The GCD says Irv Novick drew Wonder Woman #172, on the basis of records Julie Schwartz kept for Kanigher.

Ha! I knew it!



Chris Fluit said:

The "Emma Peel"/"White" Wonder Woman phase is already collected in the Diana Prince: Wonder Woman series (4 volumes).  I would expect that this was the last of the Showcase volumes for Wonder Woman.  I figure that DC will probably concentrate on publishing more Chronicles instead, as they're only up to Vol. 2 in that series.  I also hope they collect the issues in which Diana return to costume, including The Twelve Trials of Wonder Woman, as I don't think there's a trade of those yet. 

That's what I was thinking when I wrote "if there is one." My preference would be to collect the next 500 pages in B&W, which would carry us through Emma Peel AND the "12 Labors of Wonder Woman" and into, I think, the Don Heck stuff. Which would be a lot cheaper for me to buy than the full-color trades or back issues. (I dropped WW during the Emma Peel period, and have just a few issues, whose existence I cannot explain.) But I suspect you're right that the WW Showcases are done, and the rest of the "canon" will only be available in the more expensive trades and hardbacks.

" Dick Giordano on quaaludes"? Yow! I've always liked Beatty's art, but I've gotta admit, that's a pretty awesome description.

I think Return to Perdition was published in black and white, though, so you've likely got an accurate impression of the final product.

John Dunbar said:

That's a pretty in-your-face Superman on that cover.

Of the volumes reviewed above, we have eight in common, including Mighty Samson, Brain Boy, Doctor Spektor and MMW All-Winners, U.S.A. and Strange Tales, but I have nothing more to add to what you’ve already said yourself. (Did you realize that, as of last week and the release of MMW Tales to Astonish Vol. 4 that that title has now been collected in its entirety in “masterwork” format?)

I’ve read The Road to Perdition but not the sequel, Return to Perdition. I liked Road but I gave it away to a friend who liked the movie version, so I’ve read it only once. I intended to reacquire it at some point and perhaps read Return as well, but I’m not in all that big of a hurry to do so. FWIW, I recommend Road even if you didn’t like Return.

Speaking of Flash Gordon, I’ve had the opportunity to compare the comic book version of Flash and other characters (Tarzan, Phantom, Steve Canyon) to their comic strip predecessors. The strips invariably come out ahead. There’s a discussion in there somewhere, but I haven’t posted on this topic yet.

Speaking of MMW Venus, you asked for links, but rather than directing you somewhere else, I’ll just re-post what I wrote on September 8 to this discussion:

This is the kind of review no one usually responds to, but I don’t care; I’m writing it anyway, so there! Venus was one of several heroines introduced by Marvel at the tail end of the 1940s. Her title underwent a curious sequence of transformations in comics genres in its 19-issue run, starting as a glamour comic, becoming a romance comics, then a science fiction comic, and finally a horror comic. Throughout her run, Venus always remained the same character: the Olympian goddess with the power of Love, who came to Earth from the planet Venus to live among mortals for a while.

It’s interesting to speculate how these adventures jibe with the modern day Marvel Universe. Yes, I know she was involved in the origin of The Champions, and I’m aware that Jeff Parker later retooled the “Avengers of the 1950s” from What If? #9 into the Agents of Atlas, but those appearances are almost mutually exclusive. The most obvious explanation is that she’s not an Olympian goddess at all, but really one of Jack Kirby’s Eternals. That’s not the tack Jeff Parker took, but I guess that’s the difference between a professional writer and a fanboy.

Still, it’s fun to imagine that there’s a little bit of truth in both versions of her backstory, especially when one considers one of her early antagonists was none other than Loki. I’ve been curious about this series most of my life, and whereas I expected to enjoy it, I didn’t expect it to fire my imagination to the degree it has. The Marvel Boy, Black Claw, and now Venus Marvel Masterworks make an excellent complement to Jeff Parker’s (now sadly defunct) Agents of Atlas.

Volume one collects the humor/glamour/romance run, but the best is yet to come. After the title switches to science fiction/horror, Bill Everett takes over as artist!

Captain Comics said:

 

But it's not just how old-fashioned these stories are. They are also really, really boring. Wonder Woman fights the same old generic foes (Kanigher's favorites: Submarines, dinosaurs, alien invasions, giant portmanteaus (Fisherbirdman!) near Paradise Island), and continuing the absolutely unconvincing central romance (Steve Trevor remains a macho imbecile, Wonder Woman remains chastely devoted to him without showing the slightest romantic feeling). Which leads into my last complaint, which is that Kanigher seems to be running on fumes, just regurgitating the same elements and plots we'd seen a million times before. You could swap the covers on some of these books with Wonder Woman books from a decade earlier, and not notice the difference.

 

I never read more than a half-dozen issues of Wonder Woman's title before the George Pérez post-Crisis reboot, and none of the "Emma Peel" era nor what preceded it. But I have read hundreds upon hundreds of Bob Kanigher stories in DC's various and sundry war titles and its Western books. Kanigher can be good, but he recycles stuff so much, the EPA ought to name a building after him.

That is good news.  Thanks, John.

John Dunbar said:



Jeff of Earth-J said:

Of the volumes reviewed above, we have eight in common, including Mighty Samson, Brain Boy, Doctor Spektor and MMW All-Winners, U.S.A. and Strange Tales, but I have nothing more to add to what you’ve already said yourself. (Did you realize that, as of last week and the release of MMW Tales to Astonish Vol. 4 that that title has now been collected in its entirety in “masterwork” format?)

Yeah, I said as much over on the Tales to Astonish/Tales of Suspense/Strange Tales thread. I was delighted to see that they included the shorts from the back of book when Ant-Man took the cover and lead spot. I'm assuming they'll do the same with Suspense, Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery, and we'll have all four of those titles virtually complete! If you'd have asked me in 1970 if I ever thought I could say I'd have read all of Tales to Astonish, I would have thought you a strange person. But now, here it is.

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