Agonizing Love: The Golden Era of Romance Comics, by Michael Barson, Harper Design, $29.99
Talk about “Love Confessions”: I confess that I remain curious about romance comics, because I still don’t understand them. What was the appeal? Perhaps if I had been female in the 1950s it would be obvious, but lacking that advantage I can only absorb as many of these books as I can in the hopes that I will develop a gestalt of the era, the social mores and whatever thrill these books conveyed.
Since back issues of these books remain out of my price range, I must rely on reprints, and that means books like Agonizing Love. I read this book at a sitting, absorbing as much from these old stories as I could. That’s fun, in a sense, so I appreciate books like Agonizing Love.
But if it’s comprehensive listing and analysis you want, the bar has been set high by what remains the gold standard of books about romance comics: Michelle Nolan’s Love on the Racks: A History of American Romance Comics. Barson admits right up front that his romance comics collection and research is far from comprehensive, and he makes only passing efforts at historical context and analysis.
Which is not to say the book doesn’t have its charms. Barson has a light writing style that occasionally elicits a smile, and his organization is clever. He arranges his reprints in five sections by content: “Bliss,” “Jealousy and Revenge,” “Despair,” “Marriage Hell” and “Class Struggles.” This arrangement is not only amusing, but it demonstrates the repetitive nature of these stories, which followed predictable patterns. That’s revealing and insightful, which – as I said above – is one of the reasons I’m interested in romance-comics history.
Turok: Son of Stone Volume 9, Dark Horse, $49.99
There’s not much one can say about Turok reprints by way of review, as the stories by Paul S. Newman are pretty repetitive. Here’s the plot: Turok and Andar (now consistently and obviously younger than his mentor) get into trouble, often because Andar does something impulsive, where they usually meet one tribe or another that wants their fire/poison arrow secrets and/or to kill them, dinosaurs intervene, Turok does something clever, the two escape and ruefully note that they are no closer to escaping Lost Valley. (To paraphrase what I once said about Robert Kanigher and The War That Time Forgot, it’s hard to make a story about Indians vs. dinosaurs boring, but Newman manages.)
But it’s still dinosaurs, and it’s still important comics history, so I keep reading regardless of how engaging (or not) the stories are. Occasionally one will break from formula long enough to surprise me, and that helps. But what really helps is artist Alberto Giolitti, who is peaking on the stories in this volume (Turok #51-59, May 66-Oct 67). It’s not as exciting as it could be – I imagine the dinosaur threat was deliberately toned down, as Dell aimed its comics at kids – but Giolitti’s really quite accomplished at rugged landscapes and animals. And he gives both Turok and Andar very specific features – Turok has quite the aquiline bazoo – which distinguishes them at a glance not only from each other but other natives. We’re always told how terrific Jesse Marsh was at such things on Dell’s Tarzan, but for my money Giolitti is the superior artist. This volume, and those to come, shows his work to best advantage.
The Green Hornet Golden Age Remastered, Dynamite Entertainment, $49.99
Several months ago I made a remark, based on having read the first few stories in this volume, that this collection of Helnit’s Green Hornet Comics #1-6 (Dec 40-Aug 41) contained outlines of stories more than actual stories. Having finished the volume, I have to say I was wrong.
These tales – credited to Green Hornet creator Fran Striker, but no one really knows – manage to pack a lot of information into (usually) six pages. The Hornet’s schtick was to pretend to be a criminal in order to break up “rackets” (as opposed to crime in general, like bank robberies) and it’s surprising how well the writer explains the nature and mechanics of these various scams, from “protection” to insurance fraud. This was usually conveyed by the Hornet horning in on a given racket, demanding a cut, and in the process the reader would learn how it worked. This was an incredibly economical way to tell a story, which I now find quite impressive.
For the record, you can’t do much in six pages no matter how good you are, but there was usually a specific element of suspense that carries you to the end of each tale. To wit: How on earth is the Hornet going to break up this racket without blowing his cover as one of the good guys? Common sense would suggest that crooks would eventually catch on that everything involving the Hornet gets busted by the cops, but the stories successfully suggest that the Hornet impresses the underworld with his ability to skate away from one disastrous criminal enterprise after another.
In short, these stories aren’t prize-winners, but they are a darn sight better than they have a right to be. I’d love for Dynamite to continue reprinting the Golden Age Green Hornet, which morphed and hopped publishers until disappearing for a couple of decades.
"We’re always told how terrific Jesse Marsh was at such things on Dell’s Tarzan, but for my money Giolitti is the superior artist."
I first saw Giolitti in BORIS KARLOFF and thought he was terrific. Decades later, I brielfly mistook his work for Paul Gulacy's, but once I found out who he was (thanks to the Gold Key issue of COMIC BOOK ARTIST) I began to wonder if Giolitti might have influenced Gulacy once he began to move away from his early Steranko influence.
"you can’t do much in six pages no matter how good you are"
I wish somebody would have told this to Will Eisner and his worshippers. I still recall the opinion being bandied about some years back as though it was indisputable fact that a "real" writer could tell a complete story in 7 pages OR LESS. I would think that would all depend on the STORY, wouldn't you? (George Harrison once said something similar about songs; he felt a song was like a story, and they needed to be as long as they needed to be for the individual story. His beef was with the music industry and radio where the figurative question would be, "It's a great story in 8 minutes, can you tell it in 2?")
...You know , there seems to be some Lee/Kirby or Siegel & Shuster/DC-like conflict between Fran Striker and George Tremlett's camps over who was to receive credit as the Green Hornet's creator - Especially if anybody is interested in hearing more , I'll follow up , but it would appear to be situation where there's a difference between the legal situation in North America and everywhere else !!!!!!!!!!!
Re romance comics: When DC discontinued their last title in that vein in 1977?? , I , a teenage fan , specifically set out to buy that last issue , trying to get an example of what I'd missed all these years...( This was when DC had 18 pages of story per issue . )...