DC comics: The Sandman (Wesley Dodds)

Being a little green yet with my DC comics and their characters, I decided to grab this trade and single issue out of pure curiosity, but make no mistake, the names Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (definitely check out the Kirby Museum for a ton of facts, pages, and excellent insight to Kirby!) had a lot to do with the purchase as well! This incredible duo didn’t create the Sandman (Gardner Fox and Bert Christman did), but not long after a revamp by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris (Adventure Comics #69), Joe and Jack took over the reigns, and really created some fantastic adventures for this crazy character and his new sidekick (Sandy)!

The stories varied from heavy subjects like slavery and suicide, to the more usual tales of war and the mob! Mostly though, they had a strange vibe or a villain that was downright bizarre. People like NightShade (later known as Ramulus), Thor, and Noah…Barton, who has an Ark full of animals. No joke folks, it’s all right here in these pages. From Nazis to Santa Claus, anything you can think of Simon and Kirby already have, and more than likely before you or your parents were even born.

The second part of this post is to spotlight an issue of DC Comics Presents (#42, written by Mike Barr and artwork by Jose Delbo and Joe Giella), as it was the first time I’d ever read a story about the Sandman! Reading this cool story about where the character went after the Golden Age (a back up as the main story was one that featured Superman and the Unknown Soldier, which is just OK), really had me thinking about this character I’d heard of but never really knew anything about, other than he was created in the Golden Age, and was later (in name) drastically changed for a Vertigo title by Neil Gaiman (I’ve read absolutely none of those – not my thing). There was another story in JLA 113, 19974, that showed what happened to Sandy, and featured Dodds (I don’t own that one yet!).

Whether you’re a fan of Golden Age characters or haven’t really read much of them, definitely give the Sandman a try!

 

 

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Action Comics 440, 1974 “The Man Who Betrayed Krypton!”

As December rolls around, the holidays are upon us, and what better superhero to spotlight in the first week than the man of steel himself, Superman! The cover on this one really stands out, and we have long time DC artist Nick Cardy (colors by Tatjana Wood) to thank for it (although it looks very different from his typical work).

Inside we are treated to a very interesting story that involves a gentleman in a cape named Michael J. Coram, as he attempts to recruit two boys for some mysterious means. As Superman is taking care of some villains, we see a flashback of this Coram, as he approaches a man named Woodrow, about to join the Army. The man is a brilliant scientist, and Corman knows he can use this man’s intelligence for nefarious means! What are those means? Why to destroy Superman of course!

If you’ve ever the read the Superman story “For the Man Who has Everything”, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, this story will make you think of that one immediately. Not because they’re exactly the same, but they do have a bit of a parallel theme between them. At least as far as the villain and his method for antagonizing Superman is similar. I won’t spoil it but attacking someone who has an invulnerable physique isn’t easy. Writer Elliot S! Maggin does a great job at giving the Man of Steel a moment of real weakness in this book. The art team of Curt Swan (pencils) and Bob Oksner (inks) deliver a solid visual story for sure!

Nestled in the last few pages, is a really cool back-up story starring the emerald archer himself, Green Arrow! This strange story shows us a cute little dog named Krypto, a bunch of skeevy smugglers, and if that wasn’t enough, we see an out of control Black Canary karate chop Krypto on the neck! Elliot S! Maggin again scripting, and Mike Grell on art is a real treat!

 

 

SGT Fury Annual 7, 1971 “Armageddon!”

On this Veterans Day, I thought it fitting for #WarComicsMonth I’d spotlight Marvel Comic’s greatest military man, Sgt. Fury! Yes, kids, before he was a super spy, and head of S.H.I.E.L.D., he was a bad man serving in the United States military! Now he’s portrayed as more of a thinker that’s reserved and doesn’t soil his hands in physical combat, but back in WWII, he could kick butt like no other (well, except maybe Captain America of course).

In this over-sized issue, we get two stories to sink our teeth into! The first, “Armageddon (from Sgt. Fury 29, 1966),” shows our man Fury, and his seemingly never-ending battle with his arch nemesis Baron Strucker! These two men have been all but equals over the years (with Fury almost always getting the upper hand of course), and the disdain for each other is at full capacity! Written by Roy Thomas, with art by Dick Ayers (pencils), and John Tartaglione (inks). Then, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos must face “The Incident in Italy!” This one must’ve been a fan favorite, as it’s been reprinted at least twice (originally published in Sgt. Fury 30, 1966)! The same creative team brought that one to life as the previous issue (and the cover to this issue as well!). Both tales were edited by Stan Lee and lettered by Sam Rosen!

 

Our Fighting Forces 126, 1970 “Losers in a Lost Town!”

For November, its been brought to my attention (via Twitter), that there is a hashtag (#warcomicsmonth) spotlighting military comics such as Our Fighting Forces and the entire genre! This is a genre that I didn’t really get into until the last decade, but it’s one that is chocked full of brilliant work by some of the best creators in comic book history!

In the Marvel vs. DC debate, there is a lot of room for speculation and conversation on which company is best as far as content over the years. If you look at each genre, rather than overall, you can see a pretty wide gap in a the war/military comics corner. DC comics had several great titles, and certainly the better between the two comic book giants.

This book contains three stories (plus some extras), and the first stars that lovable group, The Losers! Captain Storm, Johnny Cloud, Gunner, and Sarge, are always finding themselves in situations with seemingly no way out, but always manage to find a way to survive and get to the next mission alive! Written by Robert Kanigher, with art by Ross Andru (pencils) and Mike Esposito (inks). The second story gives us perennial war comics giant Sam Glanzman (script, pencils, inks)! If you’ve never seen one of his stories before, definitely grab some of his material. A one page story/pinup by Ken Barr (script by Raymond Marais) about Atilla the Hun, is a cool piece for sure. Another one page story, this one by John Costanza, brings some humor to the book for a slight change of pace. And lastly, Great Battles of History brings us The Fall of Constantinople! Art by Ric Estrada! All of this is hidden beneath a wonderful cover by the master himself, Joe Kubert! You’ll be seeing a lot of his covers in these war books, as he was a machine at pumping out very high quality work for DC comics for decades.

 

Weird Wonder Tales 6, 1974 “The Man Who Owned a Ghost?”

As the 1970s progressed, Marvel went full on crazy with the reprints. Some were of recent material (Spider-Man, The Avengers, the Fantastic Four, etc.), and others were from as far back as the Atom Age (post Golden Age but pre-Silver Age). Flooding the market was nothing new for them, but it is still astonishing to look back on. Not that you can blame them, after all they were under the constraints of the publisher that was their rival for many years. Once they got out from under those shackles, they went hog-wild, and who could blame them.

The book is all reprints, but don’t discount it on that accord. The first story alone is worth its weight in gold, as Bill Everett is the mastermind behind “The Man Who Owned a Ghost!” Some artists have their work deteriorate as they age, but Everett’s work got stronger, just look! The second story, “Was He Just Seeing Things?,” has art by Manny Stallman, and this is a creator that I’m not very familiar with to be honest (here’s a link to Mark Evanier’s blog from 1997, talking a bit about him). Neat little sci-fi story including dinosaurs! “Homicide” follows and brings an axe murderer! Nothing here you didn’t already see from a publisher like EC comics, but still pretty jarring. The art in that one is by Harry Anderson. Again, a relative unknown today, but I found some info here. The last installment in the book is called “The Man in the Crazy Maze.” A treat for sure, as this has art by Jack Kirby (pencils) and Dick Ayers (inks)! It’s always a treat to see some Kirby! The cover is by Larry Lieber (probably pencils/layouts) and Mike Esposito (inks).

 

DC Limited Collectors’ Edition C-23, 1973 “The House of Mystery”

As October is finally winding down, one more over-sized book must get the royal treatment! And there is not a better place to walk into than The House of Mystery! Over the years that title has had many themes (pre-code horror, superheroes, then back to horror), but it really didn’t take off until 1968, when editor Joe Orlando took over the reigns (issue 174). Within just a few issues, we saw the first professional work of the most seminal horror artist of the Bronze Age, Bernie Wrightson (issue 179). Some would argue he’s the horror artist of all time, and there’s a good argument for it, but obviously that subjective, and could be talked about for decades (and probably will be).

Looking specifically at this book, we get a Nick Cardy cover, and his contributions to the comic book world cannot be in question. His decades-long  work for DC comics is nothing short of astounding. Inside we get a frontispiece by Jack Sparling, with the familiar host, Cain, telling us we are about to be in for a surprise! The first story, “The House of Gargoyles,” is scripted by Jack Oleck, with art by the aforementioned Sparling. Next, there is an incredible story called “The Secret of the Egyptian Cat.” Written by Robert Kanigher (long time DC scribe that wrote many war stories), and although he does a fine job, the artistic prowess of Bernie Wrightson is what really makes this one memorable.

The third story (“The Widow’s Walk“) is another good one, with Howard Post scripting, and the art team of Neal Adams and Joe Orlando! Very good story top to bottom! We are then treated to a two-page splash of Cain by Wrightson (black and white version), and the image is absolutely stunning. A better, more iconic image really doesn’t exist in comics. Another story (“His Name is… Kane“) with another hall of fame artist follows, as Gil Kane (pencils) and Wally Wood (inks) bless us with an art combination for the ages. The script is by Mike Friedrich, who worked for DC and Marvel during his career. As if all of this wasn’t enough, enter Alex Toth (art) with “The Devil’s Doorway.” Another script by Jack Oleck, and once again, no offense meant, but the artwork really lifts this one up quite high. Toth is a master that did everything his way, and should be lauded for it. Lastly, we get another gem from Neal Adams, Joe Orlando, and Robert Kanigher. “Nightmare” is the perfect way to finish off this extraordinary book! The book is also filled with funny pages by Sergio Aragonés, and even features a cut out, table top diorama on the back cover!

 

 

Adventure Comics 408, 1971 “The Face at the Window”

With only a few days left in October, I wanted to focus a bit more on DC comics, since they don’t get as much love sometimes around here! Checking out one of the only Supergirl centered comic books in my collection, this one is a ghost story, so that fits in perfectly for my spooky blog-a-thon in October!

In this crazy issue, Supergirl must investigate a haunted house (of sorts), and find out why the face of a little girl can be seen in the windows, when there isn’t supposed to be a little girl living there anymore. After the crew from the local TV station gets run off by a crazy old man with a shotgun, Supergirl takes matters into her own hands! There is a back up story as well, and “Invasion of the Mer-Men” is very Silver Age ridiculous but good for laughs.

None other than Mike Sekowsky is responsible for the cover, writing, and interior pencils (both stories)! Looking at his overall body of work, he didn’t write very much, so I’m not sure if he did these two out of expediency or what really went on. The interior inks are by Henry Scarpelli (a name unfamiliar to me) and it seems that he did a lot of Archie work. The cover inks are by the ever dependable Dick Giordano (long time DC artist and editor). Letters are by Gaspar Saladino.

 

Marvel Super-Heroes 81, 1979 “Again, The Glob!”

As October swings into its final week, some of the old school monsters need to get their due. One of those monsters is a nemesis of the Hulk. Of course, the Hulk is a monster of sorts in his own right, but most don’t consider him one because of the human counterpart, Bruce Banner, or maybe because he’s had periods of time where he was split from being both man and monster. Either way, he’s had plenty of opponents from the realm of monster-dom! One of the best (if not the best), is The Glob! This monster is one that gets lost in the mix, but definitely take a closer look at this behemoth of the bog! And yes, this monster does predate Man-Thing, and Swamp Thing, by a few years! Also, keep an eye out for a special appearance by the Leader!

The character was created by the same team as this book. Roy Thomas (writer) freely admits ripping off The Heap with his creation (The Glob). No shame in admitting that, as most would deny it until their last moments. Oh and its been done numerous times, so there’s really no need to get all riled up about it, especially when the creator admits to it. The art on this one is by probably the most iconic Hulk artist of all time, Herb Trimpe! He had an iconic run with this character (maybe only second to Sal Buscema), and is remembered fondly for it. Trimpe also did the cover art, and the letters are by Sam Rosen. (This story originally appeared in Hulk #129)

 

 

Ghost Rider 8, 1974 “The Devil’s Disciple!”

Back in the Bronze Age, the Ghost Rider was packed full of devilish ideas, and it was certainly a sign of the times. Many books featured cults, devils, and all sorts of satanic shenanigans. From the beginning of Ghost Rider’s days in comics, he was wrapped in these themes, and for the most part still is now. There have been different iterations but in the end, the character can’t get away from that aspect of his origin.

This particular issue features not only the flame-headed, motorcycle riding man/ghost himself, Johnny Blaze, but a new villain named Inferno, and the coup de grâce, Satan himself! For a very long time there was an unwritten rule at Marvel that God and Satan (post Comics Code Authority) were off-limits to comic books. On a few different occasions, Marvel tried to explain away any appearances by Satan, in saying it wasn’t really “Satan” but some other lesser demon masquerading as the infernal devil. Why they felt the need to back-peddle or avoid the situation totally, I can’t be certain (because nothing makes sense since we’re talking about fictitious characters in comic books, but again, probably the Code), but certainly in years to come things would change. There is a story that the writer (Tony Isabella) tells about how he wanted to eventually name a character he created in this series as being God/Jesus, but an editor changed the story before it was printed. Not the first time we’ve heard of this going on, and I’m sure not the last.

The story was written by Tony Isabella, who went on to create characters like Black Goliath, and Black Lightning (for DC comics). The art team consisted of Jim Mooney (pencils), and Sal Trapani (inks), both of whom were seasoned artists by this time period. Since the Golden Age, Mooney and Trapani worked steadily in comics. Mooney most notably for DC comics on Supergirl, and Trapani for his inking during this very time period (plus his work for Dell comics earlier). Phil Rachelson was the colorist, and John Costanza the letterer. Again , two names most know from their consistent work in this time period. The book was edited by Roy Thomas. The magnificent cover is by the legendary Gil Kane (pencils) and (long time inker/artist) Dan Adkins!

 

 

Conan the Barbarian 102 and 103, 1979 “The Men Who Drink Blood!”

The character Conan, created by Robert E. Howard, is one that some feel can be a little one note, but Howard and those that followed did a great job in changing the surroundings, supporting cast, and opponents for the Cimmerian brawler. Case in point, these two issues where Conan must fight a vampire and his clan of razor-toothed warriors!

At this point, Conan has lost his love, Bêlit (she died in issue #100), and he has taken up residence with the Bamula Tribe (and become their chieftain), who is at war with the Kungado Tribe. Conan and his mates are viciously attacked by another tribe, called the Drelliks. These men are, in appearance at least, vampires! It’s going to take every ounce of strength and cunning for Conan to defeat these monsters!

One of the best reasons you can find to read these stories is of course, the creative team. Roy Thomas (writer), was the man at Marvel responsible for them acquiring the rights to print these incredible stories. Marvel then made the great decision to have first Barry Windsor-Smith, then ‘Big’ John Buscema create the visuals for these incredible books. His command of anatomy, ability to convey feelings through body language, and settings. His skills as a penciller are right at the top of the all time greats. Inking this legendary man, is Ernie Chan, who was the perfect fit for Buscema’s pencils, and the work shows it. Add George Roussos on colors, and Joe Rosen on letters, and the perfect comic book series is complete! The covers are both penciled by John Buscema, with the first inked by Al Milgrom, and the second by Bob McLeod.