Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Volume Three, Number Sixteen

WALL OF ANGELS: THE FRANCHISE (Part five of six) #5: Published by Twentytosix Books. Price: $2.50. Full colour cover with 24 black and white pages. Written and lettered by Anthony Garcia with art by Reno Maniquis and cover colour by Brian Miller (Hi-Fi Design).
With the story of this comic being part five of six I thought that it might be a bit difficult to follow what was going on. But upon reading the "Previously in Wall of Angels" synopsis on the inside front cover I knew that wasn't going to be the case.

The synopsis begins, "Wall of Angels is a series of inter-related story arcs that explores the boundaries between technology and mythology, science and superstition.." and then goes on to explain the events of the previous four issues where the struggle for control over what is called "E-Suit technology" took place between its creator and the head of the United States' national security. Actually, the synopsis goes into much more detail that I have here but for me to explain any further might deprive you of the same initial enjoyment of this well crafted comic that I got. Anthony Garcia's writing is superb with great story-telling and excellent dialogue that kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. The story is equally matched by Reno Maniguis' stunning artwork that not only is a delight to look at but also is top notch in its visual presentation of the story.

This is a good, nope, scratch that, great read, folks. It's fun, fast paced, tightly written and everything else you could hope for in a comic. My only complaint about "Wall of Angels" #5 is the lettering. Anthony Garcia, on a few occasions, divides the words up from line to line within the word balloons. My guess is that this happened because Anthony put the balloons on the page and then lettered them afterward (instead of the other way around which is the conventional practice). While that's a very minor quibble from this comics writer/editor's perspective it takes away from the otherwise professional quality of this comic as well as the otherwise smooth reading of the story. It is a tad distracting, shall we say.

Still, don't let that dissuade you from picking up this comic. If there is only one comic that you are going to buy between now and the end of the year let it be "Wall of Angels" #5. It's that good, folks. And if after you've read it and you want to read the previous four issues you can find out how to order them online by visiting www.twentytosix.com or you can get your local retailer to order a few copies at a discount by visiting www.twentytosix.com/retailer.html with no minimum orders and no shipping charges. Buy this comic, people. You'll be glad you did.
That's it for this installment of E-Dispatches. There will be no column the first week in November as I have some personal matters to take care of but I'll be back the second week with two installments. While you are waiting for my return why not pay a visit to http://diversionsofthegroovykind.blogspot.com and see what neat stuff my buddy The Groovy Agent has to say about comics of the 1970s. See you all in a couple of weeks.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Volume Three, Number Fifteen

A few weeks back I received a package in the mail from my buddy Dave Owens who lives in London Ontario, Canada. For those of you who aren't familiar with Dave here's a primer.

Dave and I first met in the fall of 1994 when I was living in London. He had read an article in the London Free Press newspaper about one of my comics endeavours at that time and decided to contact me. The moment Dave and I met we became instant friends. Not only did-and continues to-he have a love of comics, the comics industry and comics history as I did and do but he was and is also an extremely talented artist. Over the years since our first meeting Dave and I have worked on a number of projects together including "Solomon Wyrd" and "Mister Chameleon" (for Blue Moon Comics) and "Young Immortals" (for Silver Griffin Comics) on which he provided some much-needed plot assists.

When not using his talents in the comics industry Dave also does personalized pet portraits for people, designs cards and has published, under his Nebula Studio imprint, an excellent science fiction fanzine titled "Science Fiction Darkside" (for which I wrote an article or two). To say that he is an extremely talented person is a definite understatement. Add to that that he has absolutely no ego, a great sense of humour and a heart of gold all in all he's one heck of a great guy.

That's Dave. Anyway, the arrival of the package a few weeks ago was not totally unexpected as Dave had previously mentioned that he was working on something and would send me a copy of it once he had completed and published it. So I figured this must be that project. And it was as when I got the package home I immediately opened it to find a spankin' new copy of a small press, magazine-sized publication titled "Rogue Tomato: The Hunt Begins" that was published under Dave's imprint, written by someone named Rose Brandon and illustrated and lettered by Dave Owens.

So I immediately read the comic and, well, let me say all the good stuff I have to say about it first and that good stuff is about Dave's work. This is one of the best pieces of comics draftsmanship that I have seen from Dave up to this point in his career. His panel design, visual work and lettering is top-notch.

As for the writing, ahem, hmmm, that's another story all together. I have no idea as to who this Rose Brandon is for starters and I even have less of an idea as to what she's attempting to do with regards to this story. All I do know about it is that she is in definite need of some instruction on the art of comic book writing as this tale is bad, bad, bad. But you don't have to take my word for it. Let me give you the plot and you can decide for yourself.

I think this is supposed to be a humour comic-or is it a slice of life-but I'm not entirely sure. The story opens with someone named Beanpod Berry sitting in his apartment playing a video game when the phone suddenly rings. He answers it and on the other end is his girlfriend, Rose Bumble. Rose tells him she is going to bake some tomato muffins and bring them over to his place. While Beanpod is-for obvious reasons-a tad squeamish about trying the concoction he keeps that to himself and says he'll see her later.

Hours pass and Rose doesn't show up so he decides to go over to her place to see if she's okay. He knocks on the door and after a minute Rose answers looking all frazzled and stressed. Apparently can't find her tomato to make the muffins with. Beanpod suggests that maybe she should forget about baking and maybe they could have some popcorn and watch a movie or maybe go over to his place to play video games. After his suggestion is rebuffed with a glare Beanpod decides to help her find the tomato. They enter Rose' apartment-which is dark for some reason-and search a variety of places for the missing tomato. Then, when Beanpod opens up a kitchen cupboard door a sinister looking tomato with an extremely evil smile leaps out at them, bounces on the floor and laughs. Then Beanpod steps on the tomato, squashing it. The End.

That's it. That's the story. I could go on and on about what I find wrong with this piece of writing but why bother. The dialogue wasn't any good either by the way and to be honest with you if not for Dave's superb artwork I wouldn't even be talking about "Rogue Tomato: The Hunt Begins".

As I said, Rosemary Brandon needs some lessons in the art of comic book writing. This is terrible and if you ever see it anywhere do not buy it. Unless of course you want to see Dave's great work. But unfortunately even that couldn't save this mess. It's a total waste of time.

That's all for this installment of E-Dispatches. Next week I'll be reviewing "Wall of Angels" by Twentytosix Books. Meanwhile, if you'd like me to review something of yours feel free to snailmail it to me at...Jonathan A. Gilbert/2-225 Colborne St./Box 10/Port Stanley, Ontario/N5L 1C2/Canada . And if you are mailing it from outside of Canada be sure to attach a customs declaration slip and mark it as a gift. See everyone next week.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Volume Three, Number Fourteen

Part Six


THE SUPERHERO BOOM CONTINUES: While the introduction of Archie in Pep number 22 didn't receive much fanfare (or even a mention on that issue's cover) when The Hangman was given his own title the situation was entirely different. Before that took place though MLJ Magazines gave him a one-shot (which also introduced "The Boy Buddies" in a tale that guest-starred The Shield and The Wizard) titled "Special Comics" (No. 1 Winter, 1941-42) where the death of his brother "The Comet" was retold along with the Hangman's origin. Then in the spring of 1942 "The Hangman" was given his own title which began with #2 (Spring, 1942) picking up the numbering from the previously released "Special Comics". Due though to the fact that the United States was in a full bloom paper shortage, for "Hangman Comics" to be released, something else on the MLJ Magazines schedule had to go. So "Blue Ribbon Comics" was canceled.

Besides Hangman's series, "Hangman Comics" also featured "The Boy Buddies" for its entire run. With its final issue though (No. 8 Fall, 1943) another series made an appearance, "Super Duck".

"Super Duck" made its debut in "Jolly Jingles Comics" No. 10 and while not as popular as Archie and his friends the funny-animal superhero parody appeared in a number of comics until 1960 including 94 issues of his own title. Then after 1960 the character vanished into comic book limbo, not appearing again until 1990 when a "Super Duck" story ran in "Laugh Comics" Vol.. 2 No. 24. Since then the character has made occasional though infrequent appearances in other Archie Comic Publications titles.

The cancellation of "Hangman Comics" was not so much due to a lack of reader interest in the character (who continued to appear in "Pep Comics" until no. 47, Spring, 1944) but rather due to MLJ Magazines wanting to give "Black Hood" more exposure. Debuting in "Top-Notch Comics" no. 9 (October, 1940), the "Man of Mystery" as he was nick-named was an instant success and appeared not only in a variety of MLJ titles but also had his own radio show and even appeared in the "Hooded Detective" pulp magazine. It was inevitable that the character would receive his own title so in the winter of 1943 "Black Hood Comics" took over the numbering of "Hangman Comics" beginning with number nine. Despite the title change though "The Hangman" continued to have his own series in the magazine along with "The Boy Buddies" plus "Dusty, The Boy Detective" (one of the two Boy Buddies who was as mentioned previously the junior partner of The Shield) even managed a couple of solo tales in "Black Hood Comics". The title ran until issue number nineteen (Summer, 1946) and with the next issue the title was changed to "Laugh Comics" with its superhero lineup replaced by Archie, "Katy Keene" and other humor series.

"Black Hood Comics" would be the last superhero title that MLJ Magazines would launch in the 1940s but it would not be the last title to feature MLJ superheroes during that decade. Between 1945 and 1946 Green Publishing Company-which most comics historians believe was a subsidy of MLJ Magazines-launched three titles ("Roly Poly Comics", "Black Swan Comics" and "Miss Liberty/Liberty Comics") that featured reprints of previously published MLJ superhero adventures.

THE END OF AN ERA: But by the mid-1940s the writing was on the wall and the MLJ heroes were slowly being replaced by Archie and other humor comics materials in the line's titles. The ball started rolling with "Suzie" and "Pokey Oakey" replacing "Bob Phantom" and "Firefly" in "top-Notch Laugh". Then "Suzie" also replaced "Black Hood" in "Pep Comics" who then turned around and replaced "Captain Commando" in that title and then would again be replaced in Pep, this time by "Katy Keene". As the months progressed "The Web", "Zambini" and "The Hangman" would all vanish from site and be replaced by whatever new humor characters the MLJ bullpen could come up with. But more often than not the character that would take a superhero's place would either be Archie or one of Archie's friends.

Then in the spring of 1946 even the MLJ Magazines logo would vanish and would be replaced by an Archie logo. This signified the company's focus and faith in Archie and his pals. But the strongest of the MLJ heroes continued for a while longer with "Black Hood" remaining until "Pep Comics" no. 60 (September, 1947) and "The Shield" hanging on for a few months later, taking his final bow in "Pep Comics" no. 66 (February, 1948). From that point on Archie Series was entirely a humor comics line and as the years progressed Archie and his friends became a stronger and stronger force within the company's line; appearing in such new titles as "Jughead", "Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica" and "Archie Giant Series Magazine" among others. But while Archie would be the main focus of the line (which eventually became known as "Archie Comic Publications") from 1948 right up until the present, the MLJ heroes would never completely vanish into comic book limbo as future installments will show.

That's it for this installment of the MLJ/Archie heroes historical overview. As I a couple of comics to review I'll be taking a break from this exploration for a week or two but when we return we'll be taking a look at Archie Comic Publications' superhero silver age.But while you are waiting for that plus my comics reviews why not visit http://diversionsofthegroovykind.blogspot.com and find out what my buddy The Groovy Agent has to say about comics of the 1970s. See you next week.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Volume Three, Number Thirteen

- - - - - - - -
Part Five
After the release of "Wizard-Shield Comics" MLJ Magazines waited until the spring of 1941 to launch their next superhero oriented title. Like their first four books "Jackpot Comics" was an anthology but appeared only quarterly with the final issue being number nine (spring 1943). Following the format that had been established by National/DC's "Comics Cavalcade" Jackpot featured additional adventures of the top characters from MLJ's other anthologies (Blue Ribbon, Top-Notch, Pep and Zip) in hopes of giving them the additional exposure necessary that would eventually lead to them receiving their own title. It didn't hurt company finances either to release a comic starring its top stars under one roof.

Initially the top stars of Jackpot were "The Black Hood", "Mr. Justice", "Steel Sterling" and "Sgt. Boyle". These heroes though soon lost their dominance-not only in "Jackpot Comics" but across the MLJ line-as beginning with Jackpot number four (which appeared at the same time as "Pep Comics" #22 December 1941) the "Archie" comics series began appearing in the title (and Pep).

So much has been written elsewhere about the early days of Archie Andrews and his friends that it won't be necessary to go over it here. His appearance in Jackpot though did not seem to draw any additional attention to the title because as stated earlier it was canceled with issue nine. Beginning with the following issue it was renamed "Jolly Jingles Comics", an all-humour title which itself only lasted until issue number fifteen (winter 1944-45).

NEXT WEEK: The Hangman and Black Hood.