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By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


'First Avenger' lifts the best of comics' Captain America


Captain America: The First Avenger, premiering July 22, looks to be the best comics-to-film movie of the summer – which is saying a lot – but is also loaded with fun facts:


12134152282?profile=original* This movie is the fifth appearance of the Living Legend of WWII on film, but the only one to be remotely accurate . . . or even good.


A 1944 Captain America serial was unlike the comic books of the time, as it depicted Cap with a red star(!) on his chest, no shield, no sidekick and he was, of all things, a stateside district attorney (instead of a U.S. Army private).  


Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon aired on CBS in 1979, both starring Reb Brown and jettisoning the World War II connection completely. They were awful.


A 1990 Captain America starred Matt Salinger and, of all things, an Italian Red Skull. (He’s a Nazi. His name is Johann Schmidt. He was Hitler’s right-hand man. He’s German!) It was so bad it went straight to VHS.  


* Some recent Marvel movies have had oblique references to First Avenger. Partially-constructed shields appear in both Iron Man movies. The Incredible Hulk mentions the wartime Super-Soldier Formula, which is what creates the Star-Spangled Avenger.


12134153264?profile=original* This movie returns the favor. The subtitle The First Avenger is a hint to where all these movies are heading: The Avengers in 2012. Also, Howard Stark – Tony Stark’s father, who was significant in Iron Man II – is part of the Super-Soldier science team in First Avenger.


* Incidentally, The First Avenger subtitle was added to become the whole title when the movie was distributed in areas where America isn’t particularly popular. But it turns out that even countries like France wanted the full title, because Captain America is such a well-known brand. Now the Captain America part will be dropped from the title in only three countries: Russia, Ukraine and, oddly, South Korea.


* In the comics, sidekick James “Bucky” Barnes was a teenager in the war (albeit a lethal, highly trained one). In the movie he appears to be old enough to volunteer for service. To my mind that’s an improvement, since the “child endangerment” aspect of Robin-like sidekicks always bugged me.




* Beginning in 1963, Marvel’s Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos told the tales of a fictional U.S. Ranger group in World War II. To explain how Nick Fury could remain active into the 21st century, Marvel has explained that his aging has been scientifically retarded. However, the movie version of Fury, played by Sam Jackson, will sidestep the aging question entirely by Fury not appearing in World War II in First Avenger, although the Howling Commandos will.


Speaking of the Howlers, it appears Captain America and Bucky will lead them. Of the comic-book squad, only two appear in the movie: Cpl. Timothy Aloysius “Dum Dum” Dugan, a huge Irishman, and Gabe Jones, an African-American trumpet player. The team is fleshed out by a Japanese-American, Jim Morita; an Englishman, Montgomery Falsworth; and a Frenchman, Jacques Dernier. All three have their roots in the comics as well.


Stan Lee created Morita and his Nisei (American-born Japanese) squad in a 1967 Sgt. Fury to recognize the efforts of patriotic Japanese-Americans in WWII. Falsworth was the wartime Union Jack, England’s answer to Captain America, created in a 1976 Invaders, another title set during the war. Dernier first appeared in a 1965 Sgt. Fury as the French Resistance liaison for the Howlers.

12134154069?profile=original* Cap’s wartime sweetheart was French Resistance fighter Peggy Carter, who will be played by Hayley Atwell as a conflation of various female characters. Their bittersweet romance probably won’t leave a dry eye in the house.


* One surprise is Arnim Zola, a Skull henchman and Nazi scientist who eventually transfers his consciousness to a robot. Another is the appearance of a Cosmic Cube (hinted at in Thor), a weapon that didn’t exist in the comics until 1967. I suspect it will play a role in Avengers, too.


* Hydra, a nation-less terrorist organization, predated al-Qaida by decades with its first comic-book appearance in 1965. In the comics, Hydra was founded by surviving Axis players near the end of World War II, which makes their appearance in the movie in conjunction with the Red Skull entirely consistent. Their creed is eerily modern: “Hail Hydra! Immortal Hydra! We shall never be destroyed! Cut off a limb, and two more shall take its place!”


Art above:

1. Chris Evans plays Captain America in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. He is seen here in full combat regalia. Photo credit: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

2. Dominic Cooper plays Howard Stark in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. In both the comics and the movies, Howard Stark is based loosley on Howard Hughes and Walt Disney. Photo credit: Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

3. Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers (center) with the Howling Commandos, who are somewhat different from the comics version of the First Ranger Attack Squad. Bruno Ricci plays Jacques Dernier (third left from center), Kenneth Choi plays Jim Morita (second left from center), Neal McDonough plays Dum Dum Dugan (first right from center), Sebastian Stan plays James "Bucky" Barnes (second right from center), JJ Feild plays Montgomery Falsworth (third right from center), and Derek Luke plays Gabe Jones (fifth right from center) - in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. Photo credit: Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

4. Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter, center, in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. Peggy is a U.S. Army officer present at Captain America's birth and is, as they said in the 1940s, both a tomato and a tough broad. Photo credit: Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.


Hugo Weaving plays Red Skull in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. Photo credit: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.


Stanley Tucci plays Dr. Abraham Erskine in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. In the comics, Erskine is a Jewish scientist smuggled out of Germany during the pogroms, and is based loosely on Albert Einstein. In fact, in the comics, his security codename is "Reinstein." Photo credit: Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

12134155486?profile=original12134156272?profile=originalAt left, Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. In this scene, Evans poses in a position lifted straight from the comics. Photo credit: Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. ™ & © 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved. At right, Steve Rogers staring in disbelief at his new body is a familiar scene in such comics as "Tales of Suspense" #63. Courtesy Marvel Comics


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'Thor' comics -- and movie -- a bravura mish-mash of old and new

Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


Thor, which arrives in theaters May 6, has been running in Marvel Comics since 1962. But the story has been around a lot longer than that.


12134149466?profile=originalThor is part of the Norse pantheon of gods, whose origins go back through the mists of time to the Indo-Europeans who are believed to be the root stock of European genealogy and languages. “Donar” – one of the many linguistic derivations of Thor’s name – first popped up in print around the first century AD, courtesy of the Romans. He got very popular in Scandinavia during the Viking era, roughly 700-1000 AD, until Christianity stamped out polytheism in Northern Europe.  Most of what we know of him comes from the “Elder Eddas” – the 13th century compilation called the “Prose Edda,” plus the “Poetic Edda,” which turned up later.


Thor (from whom we get Thursday) was the god of thunder, among other things, and the son of the sky king Odin (or Woden, from whom we get Wednesday). He was the most powerful warrior of the Norse gods, wielding his war-hammer Mjöllnir against frost giants, Jörmungandr the World Serpent, Surtr the fire giant and other threats to the home of the gods, Asgard. He was also erratic, impulsive and none too bright, a red-haired and flame-bearded berserker whose temper caused no end of problems for his pop – and anyone foolish enough to get in his way.


Needless to say, those latter qualities were dropped when Stan Lee launched his version of Thor in 1962. Thor had appeared in various comics before – he’s in the public domain – but Lee and co-creator/artist Jack Kirby came up with a distinctive new and completely heroic version at the ground floor of the newly named Marvel Comics. Thor was only the fourth superhero concept in the “Marvel Universe” (after Fantastic Four, Hulk and Spider-Man), and a founding member of the Avengers (1963). He was blond, not red-headed, and neither prone to anger nor stupid. And for no other reason than he liked the sound of it, Lee wrote Thor’s dialogue as Biblical/Shakespearean.


Lee lifted most of the other concepts of the Elder Eddas intact, including the nine worlds of Norse mythology (of which Midgard, or Earth, is one), and Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods that formed the basis for Wagner’s famous opera Das Ring Die Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).  But Lee added a lot, too, including Thor’s buddies the Warriors Three: comedic, corpulent Volstagg (think “Falstaff”); dashing swordsman Fandral (Errol Flynn); and dour Hogun the Grim (Charles Bronson). And for some reason, he gave Thor’s girlfriend raven tresses, whereas in the myths Sif was emphatically blonde.


12134149671?profile=originalLee launched Thor in Journey Into Mystery #83, with lame physician Dr. Don Blake discovering a walking stick in a Scandinavian cave that turns into Mjöllnir – and Blake into Thor – when struck against the ground. Eventually the explanation for how this came to be was that Thor had been banished to Earth to learn humility – transformed into the weakest of mortals – to learn humility after his temper started yet another unnecessary war (with the Storm Giants of Jotunheim).


Which is essentially the plot of Thor the movie. Wise, one-eyed Odin will give the Thunderer a comeuppance, thereby teaching him to help the helpless – and to become an Avenger (for the movie in 2012). We’ll also get to see a few other Lee inventions, including Blake’s love interest Nurse Jane Foster (now a doctor in the comics, and an astrophysicist in the movie), the Destroyer (an invincible robot created by Odin as a Ragnarök failsafe) and – yes! – the Warriors Three.


We’ll also see a lot of the grandeur of the old myths, which will explain why they were so popular for so long. Shining Asgard should be impressive, with colorful Bifröst, the Rainbow Bridge, connecting it to Midgard. And we’ll see scheming Loki, the trickster god and Thor’s half-brother, who is the Thunder God’s eternal nemesis in the comics, and in the myths the god who is destined to bring about Ragnarök. In fact, two of Loki’s children, Jörmungandr and Fenrir Wolf, are predicted to kill Thor and Odin, respectively.


Which was unique – only the Norse expected their gods to die. But even that fatalistic philosophy had the seeds of hope, a prediction of rebirth after Ragnarök.


 And all it took was the magic of movies – and comic books – to make it happen.


Art above: Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Idris Elba as Heimdall. Both photos by Zade Rosenthal/Marvel Studios












Anthony Hopkins as Odin. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios





















(From left) Tadanobu Asano as Hogun the grim, Joshua Dallas as Fandral the dashing and Ray Stevenson as Volstagg the voluminous. Photo by Zade Rosenthal/Marvel Studios


















Natalie Portman as Jane Foster. Photo by Zade Rosenthal/Marvel Studios



















Tom Huddleston as Loki. Photo by Zade Rosenthal/Marvel Studios



















Jaimie Alexander as Sif. Photo by Zade Rosenthal/Marvel Studios


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By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


The bid by Archie Comics to become a bigger player in pop culture keeps expanding, buttressed this month by the first comprehensive history of Archie and the company that bears his name.


12134118895?profile=originalCraig Yoe’s Archie: A Celebration of America’s Favorite Teenager (IDW, $49.99) isn’t going to surprise anyone. But it is a handsome book that fills in the basics.


Yoe, a comics and pop culture historian, does yeoman work here in clean, concise prose. He covers the company’s 1939 founding as superhero publisher MLJ Magazines (the name derived from the first initials of founders Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater), and its later transformation into Archie Comics, when that character, who first appeared in 1941, became the star. He provides summaries of the main Riverdale residents, and biographies of each of the major editors, writers and artists. He devotes a couple of pages each to big Archie spin-offs, like Little Archie and The Archies cartoons, band and records. He mentions some of the lesser lights, like Josie and the Pussycats, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and various fads.


12134120076?profile=originalIt’s a handsome book, with a die-cut cover of the famous three-on-a-soda scene that the United States Postal Service recreated as its representative Archie stamp. The reproduction, even of 70-year-old stories, is top-notch.


But don’t expect any surprises; Yoe toes the company line. For example, the acrimonious debate over who created Archie isn’t even mentioned, with all credit going to editor Goldwater and none to writer/artist Bob Montana or presumed early writer Vic Bloom. The company’s aggressive role in the formation and perpetuation of the Comics Code, long a thorn in the side of comics fans, is only given a few perfunctory nods.


And so forth. But, really, I didn’t expect much more than that. This is just a starting point for examining Archie Comics, and it is very welcome.  Archie: A Celebration is a fine – and fun – addition to any bookshelf, for fans and casual readers alike.




12134120657?profile=original* Frank Frazetta, known to most people for his 1960s and ‘70s Conan the Barbarian paperback covers, also drew a lot of comics. Vanguard Publishing seems determined to reprint them all.


The latest volume in Vanguard’s Frazetta library is White Indian ($49.95), a strip that appeared in various Western comics published by Magazine Enterprises from 1949 to 1953. It featured Dan Brand, a Philadelphia socialite during Revolutionary War times who ends up being trained by Native Americans, gains a sidekick named Tipi and runs around the frontier in a breechclout. Brand, who is heroically proportioned and amazingly competent at everything, mostly arranges peace between Indians and settlers, while fighting frontier bad guys like “bad” Indians, bootleggers, gun-runners and Tories.


This is pretty clichéd stuff, of course, not to mention historically inaccurate, incredibly implausible and more than a little insulting to Native Americans. But we’re not here for the stories – we’re here for Frazetta’s art, which does not disappoint.


By the time of the famous Conan paintings, Frazetta had become unique in style and technique. But in these earlier works, you can see his influences, which include Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon), Hal Foster (Tarzan) and possibly Joe Kubert (1940s Hawkman). Frazetta’s muscular male figures in action are consistently breath-taking, and emphasized to the point of homoeroticism. Frazetta’s backgrounds and animals are equally lush and impressive, so the entire package is page after page of stunning eye candy.


12134120871?profile=originalThe back of White Indian is fleshed out with stories from other publishers of the era from a variety of genres (including Western, war and Viking) and a series that called “Heroic True Life Stories” from 1952-53 Heroic Comics. Presumably these stories are included because they weren’t numerous enough to carry a volume of their own and/or White Indian didn’t fill the necessary pages.


* Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Strange Tales Vol. 4 ($59.99) is the first volume to reprint Strange Tales from after the imposition of the draconian Comics Code of 1954, and they are almost painful to read. As comics historian Michael Vassallo says in the foreword: “What’s noticeable is how tame these post-Code stores immediately are. There is no serious conflict, no death, no destruction and no violence. Just Code-scrubbed blandness.”


Especially objectionable is when a sad or serious story has a clumsily pasted-on final panel that puts the “bad” ending on another planet or dimension or something. This is fascinating from a historical perspective, but pretty tough slogging for a casual reader.


Art from top:

Archie: A Celebration of America's Favorite Teenager is a basic overview of the character and the company that bears his name. Courtesy IDW Publishing

In 2010, the USPS released this Archie stamp

White Indian collects the strip by legendary artist Frank Frazetta that ran in the early 1950s. Courtesy Vanguard Productions

Marvel Masterworks: Strange Tales Vol. 4 straddles the era when the Comics Code of 1954 was introduced, and contains stories on either side of that division for comparison. Courtesy Marvel Entertainment


Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at



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This is my first Blog attempt and I've been thinking about it for a while now. I picked the title "Reflections" because you can see reflections in Gold, Silver, Bronze and the Brand New. Comics have always reflected pop culture, politics, social issues, current events and the world that they were created in. These are my opinions, my views and my conclusions. And I welcome comments and corrections.

With the relevation of the New Ultimate Spider-Man being half-Latino, half African American, several of us (myself included) observed the lack of original minority/non-White heroes. I'm focusing on Marvel now but DC is equally lax on it. There are notable examples of black characters taking the names/personas of established white heroes: Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Goliath/Giant-Man, even Ultimate Nick Fury. To be fair, Marvel created all-new minority non-White heroes in their Silver Age but there were always problems.

The Black Panther is a real African king from the super sci-fi nation of Wakanda so it was difficult for readers to identify with him. He was a guest star for his first years, joining the Avengers. Then the term "Black Panther" took on a whole new meaning with the rise of the militant group, thus robbing him of a marketable, "safe" name. He was addressed as The Panther, the Black Leopard and his true name, T'Challa but this denied him any solo series until the regretably named Jungle Action. There have been many attempts to make the Black Panther a star; five different series, numerous minis, married to the X-Men's Storm and lately being treated as a major player in the MU. It may work yet though his lack of real powers and a dull costume are definite disadvantages.

The Falcon was always featured prominently but always as the second part of Captain America And... This sidekick label never left him and then there is his convoluted origin and constant attempts of upgrading him. Powers, no powers and the same falcon, Redwing, for over forty years! Maybe he has the super-powers!

The Prowler added some variety to Amazing Spider-Man but he's a very minor character, especially compared to Daily Bugle editor Joe Robertson.

But Marvel's best bet for a non-White superstar was:


Created by Roy Thomas, John Romita and Archie Goodwin, Luke Cage debuted in Hero For Hire #1 (Ju'72). His origin was definitely from the headlines. He was a black prisoner, wrongly convicted, mistreated by racist guards, who undergoes an experimental process to gain parole. But one of those guards tried to kill him but the overloaded treatment gives him "steel-hard skin and muscles to match!" He quickly escapes and starts a new life as a super-hero that the public can employ.

Luke had a hard life which he does not sugarcoat. He has committed crimes and done acts of violence but he was trying to better himself when he got framed. He is wary of the law and authority and rightfully so. But he wants to be a force of good, he just wants to be paid for it. This does has some precedence in the Marvel books. Both the Fantastic Four and the Avengers get stipends and the public believes that Iron Man works for Tony Stark.

Many complain about his outfit but it is appropiate. The metal handband shows his strength and nobility. The much-mocked yellow shirt works with his dark skin and makes him stand out. He does not hide in the shadows. He is in your face and proud. The chain belt reminds him of his wrongful imprisonment and gives him resolve to aid the helpless. He looks like a hero, an individual and a warrior.

Also worth mentioning is that not all whites are bad and not all blacks are good. Cage fought black foes (Diamondback, Black Mariah, Senor Muerte, Chemistro, Shades and Comanche) and white foes (Mace, the Christmas Bomber, Stilletto, not to mention Doctor Doom). The latter smacked in the middle of the Marvel Universe. The Doom issues of Hero For Hire #8-9 also have him meeting the Fantastic Four, which would pay dividends in the future. HFH #12 refer to Amazing Spider-Man #124 where he was hired by Jolly J. Jonah Jameson to capture the Wall-Crawler.

But in what would have been HFH #17, the big change comes as the title becomes Power Man, a strong and memorable name. He also battles Iron Man and holds his own.

Power Man had all the potential to be a super-star. Compelling origin, real powers, an interesting supporting cast but sales were never strong. He may have been Shaft Among the Super-Heroes but he never really fitted in. Too strong for urban crime and too urban for super-hero fare. He was even part of the Fantastic Four for three issues, replacing the Thing briefly. He was paired with fellow fad hero Iron Fist and for a time, Power Man & Iron Fist was one of Marvel's best comics.

Luke had several problems for success. His strength was seemingly purposely left vague. He battled Spidey, Iron Man and the Thing but no one knew how strong he really was. He was part of the Defenders for a time but was never asked to be an Avenger even though he had his own title. Simply put, he was never treated like a headliner. Flavor but not the main course! 

He could have been a contender. He really could have!

"Sweet Christmas!"

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By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


July 26, 2011 -- With the arrival of the Captain America movie, Titan has released two excellent books shining a light on the character’s creators.


12134111873?profile=originalFor those just coming in, Cap was created in 1941 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, in a story lifted almost intact for the movie. While Kirby died in 1994, his partner is still very much with us at age 97, as demonstrated by his new autobiography, Joe Simon: My Life in Comics ($24.95).


Given that comic books more or less came into being in the 1930s, Simon’s Life in Comics is also the story of the industry. He was present for most of the major events in the history of comic books, and was the cause of a few of them. For example, Simon was the first editor at Marvel Comics (called Timely in the 1940s), where he hired a teenager named Stan Lee. Simon worked with nearly every major creator through the 1960s, co-created entire genres (including “kid gang” comics and romance books) and worked for publishers as small as Crestwood and as huge as the company we know today as DC Comics. “Simon and Kirby” was such a recognizable franchise that the duo received royalties (which was unheard of in the 1940s), were the first to have their names on the covers of comic books as a sales tool and today have an entire archives series devoted to their works.


And as much insight as Simon’s book gives us to comics personalities like Bob Kane (creator of Batman), Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (creators of Superman) and Will Eisner (creator of The Spirit), he also managed to be around for a lot of non-comics twentieth century history. Which is how he managed to run into comedian Sid Caesar, actor Cesar Romero, boxer Jack Dempsey, writer Damon Runyon and other luminaries.


One can easily glean from the book how Simon managed to be so popular. His easy, affectless prose reveals an affable, flexible, generous and optimistic personality. Add to that Simon’s obvious creativity, and he was no doubt a lot of fun to be around. Since most of us will never have the fortune to meet him, this book is the next best thing.


The next best thing after the autobiography are the comics Simon created, and Titan has collected one of the oddest and funniest titles he and Kirby ever did.


12134112284?profile=originalSimon and Kirby left Captain America Comics with issue #10 in 1942, after an acrimonious dispute with publisher Martin Goodman. So when they heard Goodman was going to revive the Living Legend in 1953 (Cap had been canceled in 1950), it rubbed salt into a still-open wound. But the proactive Simon, always looking to turn a negative into a positive, had a brainstorm. He quotes himself as saying to Kirby, “You know, there’s no reason we can’t do our own character again. They can’t corner the market on patriotism, after all. Why don’t we show them how it’s done?”

Thus was born Fighting American at tiny Prize Comics, another star-spangled hero in the tradition of Simon and Kirby’s own Captain America … sort of. Naturally, the powerful pencils for which Kirby was known were present, and as bombastic as they ever were on Captain America. But something was different this time: a sense of humor. Fighting American was so over the top in Red-baiting, Commie-bashing, flag-waving hoo-ha that it was practically a parody of itself (and of Captain America).


“Sure, the book was full of Commies and offbeat villains,” Simon says in the foreword to Titan’s new Fighting American collection ($19.95). “But it also poked fun at the whole superhero thing.” The ever-earnest and jingoistic Fighting American (and his sidekick Speedboy) battled characters like Poison Ivan and Hotsky-Trotski with the same campy seriousness Adam West would affect in the Batman TV show more than a decade later.


The Fighting American trade paperback collects every story in the series, which ran only seven issues (with a two-issue reboot), but was still around longer than the Captain America revival, which died in 1954. (Cap wouldn’t become the popular fixture he is today until his second revival in 1964.) And even 60 years later, the humor and inventiveness shine through every page of Fighting American.


Both books offer welcome insights into both Simon and Kirby. Creating Captain America alone would be enough for most, but for this pair it was just a beginning.


 Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at

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By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


March 15, 2011 -- When Dark Horse began reprinting Flash Gordon comic books last year (as opposed to the more famous comic strips, by Alex Raymond and Mac Raboy) I wondered “Why bother?” The recently released second volume answers my question.


12134099453?profile=originalFlash Gordon Comic-Book Archives Volume 1 reprinted all the comic books published about that character from 1947 to 1953, all by Dell Comics and mostly mediocre. But Volume 2 collects the Gordon comic books published by King comics from 1966 to 1967, and is a huge leap forward in quality.


The stories improve greatly with the addition of legendary writer/editor Archie Goodwin. But Flash Gordon has always been more famous for its art than its stories, and King doesn’t disappoint. Volume 2 boasts an all-star lineup, including Dan Barry, Reed Crandall, Ric Estrada, Al Williamson, Wally Wood – even Raymond and Raboy, in the form of occasional reprints from the comic strip.


Since King comics weren’t distributed in my area growing up, this is the first time I’ve seen these hidden gems. I’m delighted to add Flash Gordon Comic-Book Archives Volume 2 ($49.99) to my collection, and to recommend it to other Mongo fans.


Two other books in the running for “most improved reprint series” are Creepy Archives Volume Nine (Dark Horse, $49.99) and Vampirella Archives Volume Two (Dynamite, $49.99). Both Creepy and Vampirella were originally from Warren Publishing, which hit a rough patch in the late 1960s and was forced to use lesser, cheaper, creators. But both of these collections come from the early 1970s, when Warren had recovered and improved.


12134099279?profile=originalBut before I tell you how good they are, let me indicate how bad they’d gotten. Here’s Publisher Jim Warren himself describing early Vampirella in Comic Book Artist #4 (available online at  “The first issue was awful – and the second issue was just as bad. … Suddenly she came alive in the twelfth issue with Archie [Goodwin] writing an entirely new origin. … Now if only there was a way I could wipe out the first 11 issues and erase it from memory.”


That’s a little harsh; Goodwin was writing the Vampirella episodes as early as issue #8, where he began adding a supporting cast, motivations and other elements that turned the strip from an incoherent pun-fest into an actual story. But Warren is right that the strip really took off with issue #12, when Spanish artist Jose Gonzalez came on board.


12134099882?profile=originalAnd it wasn’t just Gonzalez. The early 1970s saw an avalanche of new, talented, hungry artists, and many of them arrived – or debuted – at Warren Publishing. Vampirella #8-14, collected in this volume, featured horror stories by Neal Adams, Frank Brunner, Billy Graham, Jeff Jones, Esteban Maroto, Mike Ploog and Ralph Reese. Add old hands like Wally Wood and Tom Sutton, and these 1970-71 issues of Vampirella are as good as the early Warren years, or maybe even the famous EC Comics that inspired them.


All of that also holds true for Creepy Archives Volume Nine, which collects four issues from 1971-72. But Creepy #42-45 also availed itself of the huge influx of talented Spanish and Filipino artists of the time, as well as some of the new, hot writers of the early ‘70s – Don Glut, Steve Skeates, Jan Strnd and more. It’s worth a look.


Elsewhere in reprint collections:















* The Dark Knight Archives Volume 7 (DC, $59.99) collects Batman #26-31 from 1945, and I’m sad to say it’s just plain boring. The Dynamic Duo fight various dull, plainclothes crooks in these stories, and if it wasn’t for the humorous shorts starring Alfred the butler, I would have forgotten them already.


* Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Battlefield (Marvel, $64.99) reprints all 11 issues of this war book from 1952-53. The usual faults of old war comics are present: vile racial caricatures, implausible combat, infallible Americans. But “Battlefield” was clearly aiming for the high bar set by the famous war books at EC Comics, and sometimes it succeeded. The presence of many artists who would make Marvel famous in the 1960s certainly helps.


* The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor Archives Volume Two (Dark Horse, $49.99) continues the 1970s adventures of a character the editor wanted to be a narrator, and the writer wanted to be an adventurer. This creative tug-of-war is sometimes confusing, but Glut’s stories and the art (by Jesse Santos and others) are both enthusiastic and entertaining.


Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at

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