DC’s “The New 52” took over my newspaper column for a month, so I’ve fallen behind on reviewing other books, which have stacked up into teetering towers all around my desk. To make some mention of them while they’re still relevant, I’m going to do some quick reviews here. I apologize in advance to those who have already started threads on these topics, and I encourage them to post links here back to those conversations.
Creepy Archives Volume Eleven (Dark Horse, $49.99)
Eerie Volume Eight (Dark Horse, $49.99)
Vampirella Archives Volume Three (Dynamite, $49.99)
I’ve been reviewing these archives continuously as they’ve been released, and I’m delighted to say that the worst is over. As mentioned previously, Warren Publishing (the original publisher) ran into financial difficulties in the late 1960s and was forced to rely on lesser talent and a lot of reprints. But the 1970s infused new life into the Warren line, as finances improved and a talented crop of young artists entered the field.
Actually, not all of them were young, but the new cadre of talented American artists were, names that are probably familiar to modern ears: Pat Boyette, Dave Cockrum, Richard Corben, Paul Neary, Mike Ploog and others. Ernie Colon, Jerry Grandenetti and Tom Sutton were still around, too, three artists who stuck with Warren during the lean times. (Ironically they were Warren’s best when money was tight, but in the 1970s they became more or less second tier.)
But what immediately ushered the Warren books to a new level was a rush of Spanish-speaking artists from Europe, South America and the Philippines. Led by Esteban Maroto (who also wrote many of his stories) and Jose Gonazalez (the primary artist on the Vampirella strip), these guys weren’t necessarily young, but they were very, very good. Their training was obviously more classical than American artists, and they were more illustrators than cartoonists. Which is not to say that they couldn’t tell a story, which they obviously could. It’s just that their work was a breathtaking departure from what Americans had been used to seeing. Names like Auraleon, Jose Bea, Jaime Brocal, Luis Garcia, Sanho Kim, Felix Mas and L.M. Roca became welcome fixtures in the Warren lineup in the years these three archives represent (1972-73).
A lot of new writers came aboard at this time that would later go on to greater fame, but their work was less impressive. You’ll recognize a lot of them, names like T. Casey Brennan, Nicola Cuti, Don Glut, Don McGregor, Doug Moench, Martin Pasko, Steve Skeates and Jan Strnad. But most of these guys were just starting out, and hadn’t become the polished pros we’d see later on books like Action; Aquaman; Dalgoda; Detectives, Inc.; E-Man; Master of Kung Fu; and Sword of the Atom. Further, the 1970s were a far more liberal, expansive time than today, and there was a lot of experimentation going on with drugs, sex, politics, etc. That was true in the arts, too, and pop culture like music and comic books veered from the tried and true frequently – sometimes with astounding results, but more often resulting in confusion. Both results are on display here in stories where writers dumped standard storytelling techniques and tried different approaches, occasionally leaving readers scratching their heads.
But all in all it was a glorious time to be reading Warren books, as these three Archives attest. The Vampirella strip, in particular, was in good hands with Gonzalez and legendary writer/editor Archie Goodwin. Vampirella read like a top-tier Marvel or DC book, only without color (and with boobs and backsides, which Warren apparently discovered they could get away with in the early 1970s). There was occasionally color, too, as Warren experimented with special sections in full, albeit clumsily psychedelic, CMYK.
There’s one last thing I want to mention, a discovery I want to share with the world at large. Comics Buyer’s Guide readers may remember my describing and cataloguing the TOE (Things On Eyes) era of comics, when suddenly a great many characters – especially women – would have upside-down teardrops or jewels or patches of colors around one or both eyes. The earliest example of this I can find come from Esteban Maroto’s work in the early 1970s at Warren, so I have tentatively bestowed upon him the title King of TOEs, the originator of the fad. TOEs are quite abundant in these three Archives from the early 1970s, and TOE didn’t seem to hit mainstream comics until the latter part of the decade, especially in books drawn by Cockrum, Mike Grell and Timothy Truman.
But it goes farther than that. I can’t fit these huge books on my scanner, so you’ll just have to take my word for this: In the Maroto written-and-drawn story “A Stranger in Hell,” from Eerie #38 (Feb 72) on page one, you see quite clearly: Gamora. Yep, Jim Starlin’s “Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe,” who first appeared in Strange Tales #180 (Jun 75) in the Adam Warlock strip.
In this story, the woman in the fishnet body stocking with the navel-plunging neckline, the strange medallion just above her crotch, the black, furry boa around her neck and and the upside-down, bejeweled teardrops on both eyes is “the Messenger of Death.” But three years later Starlin apparently lifted this look in its entirety for Gamora. I’ll give him credit for the green-and-yellow color scheme – Maroto’s story is in B&W – but otherwise Gamora is a direct swipe.
You know, back when she was first introduced I thought there was a story behind Gamora. With most new Marvel and DC characters you could trace their influences going back to the Golden Age. But Gamora just appeared out of the blue with a really elaborate, unusual costume that didn’t have an obvious lineage or inspiration in American comics. So I wondered at the time where Starlin got that look. I didn’t imagine that he had stolen her from another artist, because I was a big Starlin fan at the time, and thought he could do no wrong. I’m kind of glad I didn’t find out back then that one of my heroes had feet of clay, because I was quite idealistic at the time and it would have ruined a lot of his work for me. Now I’m old and cynical and I just shrug. But at least now I know the story behind the story.
The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics: Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein (IDW, $21.99)
I’ve heard most of my comics-fan career how great the Dick Briefer Frankenstein series was, but the illustrations I saw with stories about it always turned me off and I never sated my curiosity. Now comes a limited collection of the series, selected by comics historian Craig Yoe, and I find my initial impression was quite correct: It’s not my cup of tea.
Briefer’s “Frankenstein” started out in Prize Comics #7 (1940), from tiny Crestwood (sometimes called Prize Comics or Feature Comics). It was a supposedly serious take on the Monster, and it was relatively violent, but I couldn’t get over the comical placement of the Monster’s nose above his eyes. Eventually the funny nose made sense – in Prize Comics #53 (Jun 45) Briefer went bigfoot with Frankenstein (or art brut, as Yoe calls it), turning it into a humorous series along the lines of the 1964-66 TV series The Munsters. Prize Comics was canceled a few years later (with issue #68, Mar 48), but the Monster had already graduated to his own title, beginning in 1945, chronicling the humorous Frankie.
That ended with issue #17 (Feb 49), but as usual, Frankenstein’s Monster was resurrected. Prize revived the title in March 1952, during the horror comics boom, and asked Briefer to return to the serious format to cash in. Reportedly Briefer’s heart wasn’t in it, and it didn’t work in the long run – Frankenstein fell prey to the anti-horror pogroms of the 1950s and was canceled for good with issue #33 (Nov 54).
Which Yoe, among others, decries as a tragedy. But to tell you the truth, I had a hard time wading through this book of 12 stories selected from 1940 to 1954. Briefer’s serious take was OK, but fairly trite. And his humorous version wasn’t that funny to me -- it was so elementary I suspected Briefer was aiming the title at children from the Casper age group. As to this specific volume, it's got a nice die-cut cover and the selections are comprehensive, but Yoe committed what I consider the greatest sin for a book of this type: He failed to include a contents page containing creator names, titles and publishing dates. Dude, reference and research is half the reason I’m buying a book like this, and I imagine that attitude is fairly common.
But, you know, that’s only my opinion. Yoe quotes all these big names saying Briefer’s Frankenstein is tops, so maybe I missed something, or I’m too cranky, or this just isn’t the kind of thing I like. You may feel different, and you can find out for yourself for 22 bucks.
The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics: Dick Briefer's Frankenstein (IDW $21.99)
This may (or may not) be a re-issue (under a slightly different name) of Yoe's 2010 Library of Horror Comics Masters: Dick Briefer's Frankenstein (also IDW). That's currently a "Bargain Book" at Amazon for $8.80, which may be a more palatable price if you want to sample Briefer's Frankenstein.
I don’t know how you keep up, Cap! I have fallen so far behind that I despair of ever catching up. Even Tracy has allowed herself to fall three volumes behind (one Creepy, two Eeries). Part of the reason is the “blah” period which you reported we’ve now passed, but also there’s so much else to read!
We’re going to have to agree to disagree about the relative merits of Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein, but that’s horse races. Frankly (no pun intended), I don’t find the “humor” version all that humorous, but I liked the “serious” version more than you did. Yes, it was relatively tame, but I would have liked to have seen more of it. I’m a completist and would like to read it in its entirety. The collection was a good sampling, but it was neither enough of this nor enough of that. Perhaps a more focused version will be forthcoming.
The second volume in the series, Bob Powell’s Terror, shipped yesterday (with a different, less interesting cover than the one in the solicitations months ago) and is next on my reading list.
I saw the Powell book at my LCS Wednesday, but I've got it ordered from Amazon, so I'll read it when it arrives. I have plenty to keep me busy in the meantime, as the stacks of books everywhere attests.
The Frankenstein story about the zombies underground was pretty good; if there were more of those then I'd change my opinion. Overall, though, I had to force my way through. I'm glad you enjoyed the book more than me, and let people know why.