It's the Golden Age of Reprints, but not all of them are worth reading

Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service

 

April 17, 2012 -- My review pile is overflowing with books that are part of what has become a huge revenue machine for publishers: reprints. But this tsunami of old comics, some not seen for 70 years, raises a new question: Which are really worth reading?

 

That wasn’t asked in decades past, because prior to the avalanche of hardcover reprints, not much was available. Fans and pseudo-historians like me were able to buy whatever reprints came out, because there just weren’t that many. And, of course, those few were generally the cream of the crop.

 

Now, though, one must make choices. Let me help with a few examples:

 

* Hermes Press is reprinting the material originally published by now-defunct Gold Key in the 1960s and ‘70s that was licensed from television shows. Some of it is vaguely interesting because the shows these comics were based on were pretty good, like Dark Shadows, Land of the Giants, The Time Tunnel and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. But now comes My Favorite Martian: The Complete Series: Volume One ($49.99), mediocre comics based on a mediocre TV show. This series isn’t worth a volume one, much less however many more are planned, unless you’re an MFM completist. If such a thing exists.

 

I don’t want to kick Hermes, though, because it’s also reprinting The Phantom comics published at various times by Gold Key, King and Charlton in the 1960s and ‘70s, a project long overdue. These comics aren’t the finest ever made, but they never get worse than pretty good. Several artists that later hit the big time started here, like Jim Aparo and Don Newton. And The Phantom is such a seminal character in adventure fiction – the first hero to wear a costume, predating Superman – that I will buy every book, plus the reprints of the comic strip that Hermes is reprinting simultaneously.

 

* Last week I savaged Showcase Presents: Young Love (DC Comics, $19.99) for romance stories from the early 1960s that are so misogynistic that they affront conscience and so idiotic they insult intelligence. But that doesn’t mean all romance stories are terrible, as evidenced by Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby’s Romance Comics (Fantagraphics, $29.99).

 

Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the marquee team of the early days of comics, pioneered the romance genre in 1947 with this title, and as you’d expect from the creators of Captain America, Young Romance wasn’t bad.  It had its fair share of melodramatic tear-jerkers, and occasional forays into misogyny (stupid women who need a man to teach them how to live), but Simon & Kirby also flirted with social issues like class distinctions and religious conflicts. And they didn’t restrict themselves to small towns or big cities, like most romance stories, finding romance out West or in the Korean War. Young Romance offers 21 of the best of Simon & Kirby’s romance stories, and that’s probably just the right amount.

 

* I truly appreciate comics historian Blake Bell’s efforts to codify the careers of early comics creators, especially the Steve Ditko Archives (up to Volume 2, waiting for 3). But Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives Volume 1 (Fantagraphics Books, $39.99) was a disappointment. There’s no information in here about the creator of Sub-Mariner that I didn’t already glean from Bell’s 2010 Fire and Water: Bill Everett, The Sub-Mariner and the Birth of Marvel Comics (Fantagraphics, $39.99). Which isn’t surprising, since the primary purpose of this book is to reprint rare, old, non-Sub-Mariner stories by Everett. But that is a problem in itself in that A) Everett’s early work is pretty amateurish, and B) excluding Sub-Mariner means excludes the writer/artist’s best early work. Oh, well, maybe Volume 2 will be better.

 

Finally, I have to mention Sugar and Spike Archives Volume 1 (DC Comics, $49.99). I’ve heard all my life how terrific this 1950s comic book was, which starred two toddlers with their own baby speech adults could not understand, written and drawn by the legendary Shelly Mayer. But, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t make it through this book. It seemed to have only one joke – the Look Who's Talking joke – and the misadventures the kids share are both bland and faintly familiar, as if Mayer was replicating every TV show and movie he’d ever seen.

 

So there are some warning signs about recent reprints, brought to you by Captain Comics. My motto: “I read the crap so you don’t have to.”

 

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

 

ART

1. My Favorite Martian: The Complete Series: Volume One reprints comics that probably don't deserve the hardback treatment. Copyright Hermes Press.

2. Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby's Romance Comics reprints some of the better comics of this genre by the team in comics. Copyright Fantagraphics Books.
3. Amazing Mysteries: The Bill Everett Archives Volume 1 reprints the legendary writer/artist's earliest work. Copyright Fantagraphics Books.
4. Sugar and Spike Archives Volume 1 reprints the misadventures of two toddlers with their own private language. Copyright DC Comics.

Views: 447

Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on April 24, 2012 at 12:25pm

I’m reading the crap right along with you, buddy!

My Favorite Martian: Oftentimes, Hermes Press will designate a collection “volume one” even though it collects the work in its entirety. That might be the case here.

Young Romance: Agree.

Bill Everett Archives: Agree.

Sugar & Spike: I started reading this one twice and couldn’t get more than a couple of stories in either time. Judging from the amount of anticipation on the board at the mere announcement of this volume, I expected a good discussion, but after its release, nothing. It didn’t even get a nomination for Cappy until I said something about it, then it ended up winning. I think people like the idea of Sugar & Spike more than the comic books themselves.

Tomorrow we can look forward to the release of Frank Frazetta: Funny Stuff. According to the solicitation, Frazetta considered himself a humor artist, but I’m not sure what to expect. The third volume of the Steve Ditko Archives series you mentioned was solicited to ship this past January 25. I’m looking forward to Jack Kirby’s Spiritworld (solicited for April 11) and Silver Streak Archives (June 27 if it ships on time). I’ll be looking forward to your thoughts on those.

Comment by Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) on April 24, 2012 at 12:35pm

I had a mild interest in the Sugar and Spike book, but I always thought a Showcase would have been better IMO.

The only Hermes reprint I have bought so far was the Time Tunnel book, and found the Forward and the pics in the back more interesting and more fun than the actual comics. The comics I thought were pretty mediocre myself.

Comment by Captain Comics on April 24, 2012 at 9:51pm

Would Miss Clowny be one of those ... ? :)

Seriously, I want a world with all kinds of comics -- including those I have no interest in. So I'd like Sugar & Spike to find its audience, and be successful. But that audience just isn't me.

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on April 24, 2012 at 9:55pm

...I have meant to discuss/bring up S&S but I have been , um , " financially challenged " and cannot buy it now !!!!!!!!!!!

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on April 26, 2012 at 2:07pm

...You do realize , MSA , that the creators of Look Who's Talking (and Rugrats) probably READ SUGAR & SPIKE  , right ?????????????

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on April 27, 2012 at 9:27pm

...That's CC --- Heh heh !!!!!!!!!!!

Comment by Captain Comics on April 27, 2012 at 10:00pm

Well, heck, he could be listening.

Comment by Captain Comics on April 28, 2012 at 5:13pm

I have exactly one (1) Adventures of Jerry Lewis. None of Bob Hope. So I second!

Comment by Captain Comics on April 29, 2012 at 9:19pm

Nope. The issue I have Jerry Lewis pretends to be a superhero called The Tarantula after a head injury. My brother bought it, no doubt because it looked like a superhero book. 

Comment by Emerkeith Davyjack on May 2, 2012 at 9:13pm

...So , even as a High Silver Age comics consumer , and a DC buff , MSA , you didn't read S&S then ????? <SNIFF>

  You're kicked out of True SA DC-Dom Fandom !!!!!!!!!!! Expect the gelginite to be left outside your local's parking lot soon , heh heh ( Joke Of Dubious Taste Dept. )...........No , seriously , if you weren't - and aren't - intersted , whatevs . It's all good . Don't hate or () your hatas !!!!!!!!! ( Had enough attempted 90s expressions - and an attempt at a heart - yet :-)????????? ) .

  I guess the deesire for a S&S reprint program has been such a long-sounding drum beat among some old fans , when That Great Coma And Get It Day actually arrived , well , there might be some let-down...

That would be of the first ishes , obvious-like , and  , I dunno , mebbe the early ones started off slow ( Except that I reasonably recall that when early-00s DC followed their " Once a decade or so "template for ANY S&S  stuff scheduling and that DC Replica Series issue reprinting S&S #1 came out , I thought it was nice - keen . Well I would , wouldn't I ?

  I bought about 1/2 dozen copies of that , eventually , sometimes flat-out giving it awayto , I believe , appropriate places/spots , To Further The Cause .

  I suppose S&S sorta started from a place of " DC tells S.M. that they'd like something rather a bit like DENNIS THE MENACE" and perhaps... ( I mean , I have read something at least suggesting that !!! ) The early issues had " oversized , typewriter-like lettering " as the early Dennis funnybooks did - and as Marvel's ( I THINK this is the relation . ) DEXTER THE DEMON/PETER THE LITTLE PEST/PETEY , at least initially , did , which I'd also , Hugh Betcha , like reprinted !!!!!!!!!!!

  The SM-created LEAVE IT TO BINKY started from a " DC tells SM they'd like something sort of like ARCHIE " place , I believe SM WAS quoted at that !!!!!!!!!!!

  He was their top/go to funny/kids' stuff guy , after all...........One of those " best breakdancer in Omaha " ( much love and maximum props to Warren-Ville , uv cawss ) situations , I guess.........

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