Reprint Reviews: 'Archie Archives,' 'Dark Shadows,' 'Dagar,' 'Space Family Robinson,' Golden Age Masterworks

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Archie Archives Volume Two (Dark Horse, $49.99)

Archie Archives Volume Three (Dark Horse, $49.99)


Volume Three of Dark Horse’s comprehensive reprints of Archie material came right on the heels of Volume Two, which is cool – they can’t come fast enough for me.


For one thing, I find them genuinely funny. There’s a sharper edge to these early Archies than you find today, where the character is a bloodless cultural icon and can’t even hint at sex or violence. But these older stories can acknowledge that grown men drool over Betty & Veronica – Principal Weatherbee is wrapped around their fingers --  and the punchlines can be more surprising than today’s Archies, which are locked in to wholesome, milquetoast parameters.


Also, the humor rises from the traditions and rhythms of vaudeville, which is all but erased from our comedic landscape. Today’s humor rests on the snappy one-liner and other traditions of the sitcom, so this older style of humor – which is no less funny – can take this reader by surprise. And if you can’t tell by now, I like surprises.


Another aspect I enjoy is seeing these familiar characters in their formative years, before they were locked into their current ensemble roles. In these Archives, each character is slowly morphing before our eyes into what they will become, and it’s mesmerizing to see the creators experiment and play with “missteps” and alternate directions. For example, Betty is quite the sneaky shrew in these early stories, constantly sabotaging Veronica, who seems almost disdainfully above the fray (since she has already won Archie, who doesn’t notice Betty’s alive). That’s a far cry from today’s “perfect Betty,” who doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in her body, and the more equal romantic triangle between the three characters that has endured for decades. And today’s Veronica seems to have inherited Betty’s sneakiness. How did these characters get from A to B? These Archives are showing us.


Another interesting aspect of these two books is that Archie creator Bob Montana is in the service for most the period they cover (Spring 1943-September 1944, according to Tables of Contents that were missing in the first Archives). So these stories are not only different from today’s Archies, they are also significantly different than the stories that precede them (in Archive Archives Volume One) and those that will follow, when Montana returns and takes over his signature character.  The stories are written by a variety of names, but most of the art is by a lesser artist named Harry Sahle, who style makes the characters a bit gawkier and not quite as attractive (Archie’s tooth gap is exaggerated, for example). Other artists, when they appear, seem to be aping his style, so I feel safe calling the war years the “Sahle Era,” and from the way his signature gets bigger and bigger with each story, I’d guess he meant to keep the chair after Montana returned, rather than just keep it warm. Regardless of my armchair psychology, Sahle did seem to try to make the character his own, which translates to, from a historical perspective, “different than Montana.” That makes these stories a unique moment in Archie history.


But I mentioned in my lead that the books can’t come soon enough, and one of the reasons is that – as mentioned – Sahle isn’t quite the artist Montana is, and I’m eager to see the master back. Another reason is that with the cancellation of Jackpot in 1943 – and no doubt due to wartime paper restrictions – Archie only appeared in two titles during the war: Pep Comics, and his eponymous title.  That’s delaying one thing I’m really interested in, which is the explosion of Archie titles in the late ‘40s and the character’s coup d’etat over MLJ’s superheroes.


So let’s get going, Dark Horse! Volume Four is scheduled for the spring, and that’s too far away!


Dark Shadows: The Complete Original Series Volume Two ($49.99)


I had a hard time getting through Volume One, watching Barnabas Collins running around like the Martian Manhunter (which was also drawn by Shadows artist Joe Certa) and poorly paced stories that couldn’t decide whether they were suspense or action tales.


Yet I breezed through Volume Two, and quite enjoyed it. Either the creators have grown more comfortable with the job, or I have grown more comfortable with their interpretation, or – as seems likely – a combination of both. Anyway, I’m now looking forward to Volume Three, and my curiosity about the new series from Dynamite and the upcoming Johnny Depp movie has risen considerably.


Dagar the Invincible (Dark Horse, $49.99)


Dagar launched as the result of two events dovetailing: The spectacular success of Conan the Barbarian at Marvel in the early 1970s  (resulting in tons of imitators); and writer Don Glut’s secret effort to create a unified character universe at Gold Key (which his editors did not want). Hence Dagar the Invincible, a Conan clone, beginning in 1972.


But Dagar had two things going against it.


One was the aforementioned reluctance of Gold Key’s powers-that-be to embrace the comics model that was working so well at Marvel and DC – not just a unified universe, but continued stories, character progression, soap opera, the whole Stan Lee ball of wax. They wanted to keep to their own business model, which was short, safe, self-contained comics for kids – one which eventually put them out of the comics business.


The other was a poor conception. I’ve enjoyed Glut’s Gold Key stories, but he made a misstep with Dagar in making him a specific kind of barbarian character, and one that’s not very likeable – a mercenary. Yes, Conan was a mercenary for a while, too, but he was also many other things – a thief, a general, a pirate, a king. Conan was not described or circumscribed by his various occupations; whatever he was officially doing, he was always Conan, doing fun Conan things like saving damsels, fighting monsters, and stabbing people who, by Crom, needed stabbing. Dagar, by contrast, just seems like a thug with no core set of principles – he’s just in it for the money.


Dagar seems to be re-thinking his profession by the end of this volume, so maybe Glut realized how unappealing and self-limiting his initial concept was. So count me in for Volume Two, where I hope Dagar will become more akin to his “cousin” Conan – and therefore more fun.


Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery Volume Six (Dark Horse, $49.99)


In my review of the first volume of this series, I wondered why it was that I never collected this book in its original run – the stories in that first volume weren’t world-beaters, but they were competent and mildly amusing, which would have been enough for me in those years. (For heaven’s sake, comics only cost 12 cents – I could buy every book from every publisher that came out in a given week by mowing one lawn. Sampling or adding a book wasn’t quite the financial crisis it is now.) Then later in the series, I hit the point where I HAD sampled Boris Karloff back in the day -- and had put it back on the rack. And with that, I remembered why I didn’t buy it: It sucked.


Not at first, of course. But somewhere in the third year or so, the quality really tanked. The artwork was by C-listers, and the stories – well, they were just kinda dumb. They insulted my intelligence as a pre-adolescent, and the years haven’t made them any better.


I don’t have any inside information for what happened at Boris Karloff, so I can still hope that quality will improve in future volumes. I hope so. This one had cute polka-dotted aliens, for crying out loud.


Space Family Robinson Volume 1 (Dark Horse, $49.99)

Space Family Robinson Volume 2 (Dark Horse, $49.99)


Space Family Robinson (the source material for TV’s Lost in Space, as if you didn’t know) was another series where I had trouble getting through Volume One. It wasn’t the fault of artist Dan Spiegle, of course, whose artwork I’ve savored on everything from Gold Key’s Jonny Quest to Eclipse’s Crossfire to DC’s Blackhawk.


No, it was the stories of writer Gaylord DuBois, a Golden/Silver Ager whose prodigious output was only matched by his mediocrity. The giveaway at how little thought went into these stories was the constant use of science-ish terms in front of everything to make it all sound futuristic and science-y. “Hey, kids! Check your space-watch! It’s time for space-dinner in the space-kitchen!” “Yay! I’m rocket hungry, Dad!”


That sort of thing. Also, in Lost in Space the writers chose a wide variety of ages and genders for the crew – yes, some of them were clichéd, but at least it was more interesting than Space Family Robinson, where you have perfect 1950s Dad, retiring (and almost invisible) 1950s Mom, and two pubescent twins of identical age, male Tim (heroic but none too bright) and female Tam (invisible). The stories in Volume One invariably followed Tim, in the sorts of bland adventures you’d find in Boys’ Life. In fact, if you changed Tam into a young male, the crew would strongly resemble the cast of Leave It to Beaver.


Then, surprise, I enjoyed Volume Two. DuBois seems to have grown into the role, or grown more enthusiastic. Either way, he’s dropped the “space”-this and “rocket”-that, and seems to be trying to use genuine – or at least plausible – scientific terms, like "gyroscope." And the crew seems genuinely in peril, with more of a Voyager vibe – instead of cheerfully accepting their lot and having complete faith that they will eventually get home, the characters are instead a bit more aware of just how isolated and vulnerable they are, which adds an underlying anxiety. And they no longer talk much about the inevitability of getting home.


It’s still not a prize-winner, but I’m no longer wincing panel to panel. And if I look at this as a trend, it makes me anticipate Volume Three all the more.


Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Captain America Volume 5 (Marvel, $59.99)

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Marvel Mystery Comics Volume 6 ($59.99)


I honestly don’t have much to say about these books, because even though I read them I really don’t remember them. They were originally published during the war, with lesser talents churning them out, and they seemed stale and repetitive to me. Like with the Archie Archives, I’m looking forward to when the Golden Age Marvel Masterworks progress past 1945. 

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...When will Dark Horse publish the Archie stories from PEP in their own title , as they said that they would ???

  Much like when DC dlayed awhile before ttending to the ACTION COMICS stories of ol' Big Blue , early in the Archives era...

  Does Boris Karloff's estate have some or all the copyright to the BKTOM material ? Even beyond the Karloff likeness & name & whatever the Karloff character says .

  This extends to at least two other liscenced-concept applied to a horror/mystery anthology titles that GK had ,RIPLEY'S  BELIEVE IT OR NOT ! and THE TWILIGHT ZONE .

  I'm going to have some more to say about this " WHAT was the source material for the Irwin Allen LIS ? " question , it seems to develop tails like an enigma wrapping a mystery...

The Archie Archives contain all Archie stories in chronological order, including Pep Comics stories. There's no need for a separate Pep series.

Dark Horse had to negotiate with the Boris Karloff estate to reprint Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, as well as whoever holds the Gold Key rights, so yes, the estate holds partial rights. I imagine the same is true with the two books you mention.

I didn't know there was any mystery about the Space Family Robinson-Lost in Space connection. Everything I've read treats it as a given.

Somehow or other, I got ahold of a number of BORIS KARLOFF comics back when.  It was probably my MOM who picked 'em up, she was a huge fan of his, and she also picked up a number of "monster" and "horror" comics as well.

While never being overly thrilled with them, I did enjoy them, in a low-key sort of way.  It reminds me of the way that, back then, I used to watch a HELL of a lot of TV shows-- many, if not MOST of which, I watched ONCE, and never saw again. This is in stark contract to recent years, where the number of available shows-- ON CABLE!!!-- seemed to be shrinking, as the few shows that were on got shown over and over and OVER, to death.

Anyway, decades after-the-fact, I re-read the issues I had. Some stories were real dreck, but a lot of that related to some really AWFUL art. But mixed in there were some real gems, including work by Luis Dominguez (a good friend of Arnold Drake), Frank Bolle (I'd seen his work in Warren mags, but gained a new appreciation for him when I saw his western art from the early 50's), Alberto Giolitti (at first, I thought it was EARLY Paul Gulacy-- I suspect both may have had similar influences, either that, or Gulacy's "later" period was inspired by Giolitti even as his "early" period was inspired by Steranko), and, my old friend Frank Thorne. (I had no idea the 1st time I'd seen his work was in a BK issue!!)

Apparently the first 2 issues were licensed from the THRILLER TV series, but when that ended, it must have been somehow cheaper to do a licensing deal direct with Karloff, hence the title change.  (Have the first 2 issues been reprinted? As it happens, I have BK #22, which reprints 2 stories & the text story from BK #1.)

...Well , Cap , I understood the GK SFL to be very similar to the IA LIS - Obviously , basically based about a reworking of the Swiss Family Robinson concept , with Disney's late-50s?? movie with Hayley and John Mills?? , her dad , the mutual inspiration - But , I recalled there being no literal adaptation of LIS (  Evil and fey Dr. Smith , etc. ) until that 90s Innovation series by Bill Mumy , which never got finished but I believe he eventually got another company to pick it up/conclude in the Oughties...I am aware that GK SFR added a " Lost In Space " secondary logo to the cover after a while , but , in fact , I thought that...

  Well , what is the copyright credits situation on your book ? You haven't yet plowed it out to Books-A-Million yet , have you ???!! Hee hee .

  Or , on the vintage paper ishes...

...And , were all the pre-ARCHIE #1 stories in the first Archives , then ?????????

"I understood the GK SFL to be very similar to the IA LIS - Obviously , basically based about a reworking of the Swiss Family Robinson concept , with Disney's late-50s?? movie with Hayley and John Mills?? , her dad , the mutual inspiration - But , I recalled there being no literal adaptation of LIS (  Evil and fey Dr. Smith , etc. )"

Even LOST IN SPACE didn't have Dr. Smith OR The Robot at first, when they filmed the pilot.  Something made Irwin Allen rethink the thing, add the 2 new characters, shoot a LOT of extra footgage, and then the original pilot footage wound up being split up between episodes 1, 3, 4 & 5.

The funny thing is... ever since I saw the first 13 episodes of DOCTOR WHO, I haven't been able to get it out of my mind that irwin Allen may have seen THOSE episodes and taken inspiration from them!

From what I've seen of Gold Key's SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON, it has virtually NOTHING in common with LOST IN SPACE!

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

...And , were all the pre-ARCHIE #1 stories in the first Archives , then ?????????

Yes. The first Archie Archives reprints the Archie stories from Pep #22-38 and Jackpot #4-8, as well as Archie #1-2.

Archie Archives, Dark Shadows, Dagar, Boris Karloff, Space Family Robinson, Golden age Marvel Masterworks… I’m reading all this stuff, but I don’t really have anything to add to what you already said in your post. I enjoyed reading it, though. The only comment I might disagree with is “they can’t come fast enough for me.” Not just Archie, but some of these series are coming out too fast for me to keep up with. (I should complain, right?)

"Yes. The first Archie Archives reprints the Archie stories from Pep #22-38 and Jackpot #4-8, as well as Archie #1-2."

Now THAT's the way to do a project like this!!  (Reminds me of WONDER WOMAN ARCHIVES.)

This is what I wish Marvel would have done with SUB-MARINER.

...Thank you , Captain:-) .

  I want that Vol. 1 , then , despite the flaws you noted...As for playing down Bob Montana's name , it's because Archie is the last of the pre-1980 style comic book companies that BLATANTLY treats artists sh*tt*l* (although , of course , perhaps because it seems profitable , perhaps some " nicer " elements within the company...Perhaps BOTH factors !!!!!!!!!...They have published those DeCarlo and Goldberg theme collections , w/Lucey to come , and that early Montana dalies(Sp.??) one) !!!!!

Love to get the Boris Karloff volumes, but fifty dollars a piece makes me wish I'd collected more of the original series when I could still get them for two or three dollars each.

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