Tuesday 28 September 2010

Wulf the Barbarian #1.

Atlas Comic Wulf the Barbarian #1Atlas Comics may have given us the questionable pleasures of Ironjaw but, happily, they had room in their scabbard for more than one sword.

The other one was Wulf the Barbarian.

Like his metal mouthed counterpart - and myself - Wulf’s the rightful ruler of some kingdom or other, denied his throne by an evil usurper. Unlike Ironjaw, he’s a nice boy who doesn’t bother others unless they bother him, spending his days juggling on street corners, with his semi-lame mentor.

But all the while he dreams of avenging his parents and reclaiming the title that’s rightfully his.

This thing’s so much better than the despicable Ironjaw that it’s hard to believe it’s created by the same species, let alone the same company.

The credit for this is entirely down to writer and artist Larry Hama. It might be harsh to suggest it but I’m not convinced that all who worked for Atlas were necessarily giving of their best. Hama, however, is clearly going for it and, as a result, the thing looks great, is properly structured and understands how to use flashbacks. It’s through these that we learn the youthful Wulf’s parents were slain by the troll army of sorcerer Mordek Mal Moriak - a pleasingly level-headed villain - and that Wulf has spent his life since preparing for the day when he’ll slay the wizard and reclaim his land.

Being sword and sorcery, it’s not exactly short of clichés but, still, it’s by far the best Atlas Comic I’ve read, mostly because, unlike most of their heroes, its protagonist is neither thug nor cannibal. If only all their heroes had been cut from the same cloth, you can't help feeling Atlas might have actually stood a chance.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Phoenix #3. The Deiei Devil and the bullet-proof Batman.

Atlas Comics Phoenix #3, Satan and the YetisInspired by the Phoenix’s futuristic suit powered by atomic transistors, I’ve made myself a set of dungarees powered by nuclear valves. Granted, it doesn’t give me the power to defeat my enemies but at least I can fix my vertical hold by repeatedly hitting myself on top of the head.

That’s right. With the kind of logic that’s made this blog what it is, I’m reviewing issue #3 of The Phoenix after issue #4. That’s how anarchic (not to mention unfocused) I am.

The truth is, having abandoned my attempt to review issue #2, due to apathy, I wasn’t going to review this at all. But seeing Andrew Wahl’s piece about it on Comics Bronze Age reminded me just how loopy it is and also that it has a vaguely interesting back-up strip. And so, brace yourself because, nuclear valves at the ready, I’m going in there.

Phoenix #3’s where the strip descends into total madness as Ed Tyler sets out to save a Nepalese Himalayan village from the Devil and his horde of yetis. This being The Phoenix, it turns out the Devil’s yet another of those pesky Deiei aliens who seem to infest his pages like bed bugs. I swear to you that if the Phoenix had his car clamped, it'd turn out the wheel clamper was an alien.

In fairness the idea of our hero coming up against yetis and the Devil isn’t necessarily a bad one. The Silver Surfer, after all, encountered both in the original run of his mag and it never did him any harm. On top of that, given the strip’s milieu, and Ed Tyler’s Jesus complex, the idea that the Devil’s an alien makes perfect sense.

What doesn’t make sense is that, having captured our hero, the Devil decides to kill him, by…

…throwing him…


…the Loch Ness Monster.

You see, you might think the Loch Ness Monster lives in a big Scottish lake and plays bagpipes but writer Gabe Levy knows better. He knows it lives in a cave in Nepal. No wonder all those researchers at Loch Ness can never find him.

Still, it all ends happily when the Loch Ness Monster eats Satan.

Leaving aside its sheer stupidity, and the continued attempts to draw ham-fisted parallels between the Phoenix and Jesus (he gets strapped to a cross at one point), a major problem with this issue is artist Sal Amendola. It’s clearly pencilled with a degree of workmanlike elegance but his inking’s a very odd thing in which some lines are as thick as your fist and some so thin you can’t even see them.

I have a terrible admission to make. Despite its idiocy and poor ink job, this is actually my favourite issue of the run because, daft as it might be, it has yetis and the Devil in it. It’s dumb but rarely dull.

Still, as though to signal Atlas Comics were already starting to lose faith in the Phoenix even before they reinvented him, he doesn’t even get the mag to himself. This issue, unlike the others, he has a back-up strip.

It’s always fun trying to work out who Atlas' characters are rip-offs of and I assume, from his costume and name, that the Dark Avenger’s meant to be a kind of bullet-proof Batman. It’s a pleasant little tale that quickly introduces us to this new hero and tells us how he came to have a suit of flexible armour lying around just ripe for the moment he might need it. It would’ve been interesting to see how this strip would’ve developed had it continued but, sadly, we were never destined to find out.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Phoenix, The Protector #4. Nurses in bikinis.

Atlas Comics, Phoenix the Protector #4, the CyclopsDeath by friction. It’s not a suicide method you see every day. But then Ed Tyler’s not the sort of man you see every day. He’s the Phoenix and, unlike most Atlas Comics heroes, he actually had everything he needed to be a success.

What he didn’t have was two firm hands on the editorial steering wheel. And so, by issue #4, he was Phoenix no longer.

He was…

…The Protector!

He wasn’t the only one to have an abrupt transformation. Larry Lieber’s last page editorial’s full of chirruping about how great it is that changes are happening across the board at Atlas and how the company’s going to power on from strength-to-strength.

It’s a strange editorial. It has all the bluff and bluster he learned from his brother Stan Lee, when it comes to promoting a company, while at the same time implicitly conceding that maybe the comics haven’t been any good so far and no one’s actually liked them. When he wrote it he must have known the end was coming but was still determined to keep talking things up. Reading it, I do feel quite sorry for him.

As for the Phoenix. To my eyes, all they really had to do was dump the, “He’s like Jesus,” stuff, stop having him fight the same bunch of aliens every issue and give him a proper variety of super-villains.

Well, not only does Larry Lieber not see it that way but Phoenix doesn’t either. At the tale’s start, he’s decided to set fire to himself for having messed up every time he’s tried to be a hero.

You do wonder about his sanity. One, he’s actually succeeded every time he’s tried to play the hero, and two, if he thinks he’s failed as a super-hero, why doesn’t he just quit being a super-hero? Suicide is so attention-seeking.

You also have to question his marbles when it comes to methodology. He decides to do it by flying so fast he burns up in the atmosphere. I suppose, given that he’s an astronaut used to the idea of the heat of re-entry and he’s called the Phoenix, it has an aptness but would anyone really try to kill themselves by friction? Wouldn’t he just choose to fly straight into a rock instead?

Either way, it doesn’t matter because, before he can die, our hero’s taken aboard an alien spaceship where he’s told he’s got to protect the Earth.

Who does he have to protect if from?

Why, the aliens who rescued him. They’re called the Protectors and it seems that, like the Deiei before them - who they employed - they’re not impressed with Earth or its people and if Tyler doesn’t come up with the goods as a hero, they’ll destroy it. So basically, they’ve employed him to protect the Earth from themselves. Clearly aliens have a different sense of logic from the rest of us.

Despite the fact they’ve provided no tuition in how to use the new gadgets they’ve given him, Tyler passes his advanced super-hero test by killing a monster for them and is duly appointed the Earth’s protector.

It has to be said the thing’s not helped by Ric Estrada’s artwork. It’s OK without ever being impressive but he seems to have learned everything he knows about drawing aliens and spaceships from watching old 1920s and 1930s Saturday morning serials. His strangest and most dated foible is to dress what seem to be Ed Tyler’s nurses in old-style bikinis and bathing caps.

On the strength of this issue, the reinvention was always going to fail because Tyler’s now working for the sort of aliens he spent the first three issues trying to stop. It makes Tyler a puppet, and one willing to go along with what’re basically homicidal maniacs. His costume’s fine, although not as distinctive as his old one. His powers are nothing original but should do the job. But would future stories really have worked?

There’s one potential clue in the box that advertises the next issue that never happened. It says, “The Protectors are watching as the new Protector..” Argh! No! We don’t want to see the Protectors ever again! Not just because they look stupid but because their presence would inevitably belittle the book’s protagonist. We want them to clear off and leave the Protector to get on with fighting super-villains.

So, how should the comic have gone? Well, in both incarnations there are parallels to both Warlock and Marvel’s Captain Marvel, a hero working against aliens who're out to destroy the Earth, Jesus Complexes, periodic reinvention, wristbands, existential angst. So, maybe all Atlas really needed was to stop trying to make him work as a conventional super-hero, and get Cosmic with it.

Sadly, however, you get the feeling “Cosmic” was something Atlas were never going to have the creative ambition for.

Monday 20 September 2010

Lomax and Luke Malone, in Police Action #1.

Lomax and Luke Malone, Atlas Comics, Police Action #1
Whether you were on the streets of the Big Apple or the waters of the Big Foggy Place With The Trams, one thing was certain, it wasn’t smart to get too close to anything explosive - especially if that explosive was a dame. Lomax, NYPD, could tell you that, and so could Luke Malone, PI.

Maybe that’s why they stalked their cities’ streets alone.

Or maybe it was because their habit of hitting first and asking questions later meant they had no friends.

Either way, both found themselves dealing with men who’d faked being blown up in order to cheat the mob. In one case, a crooked cop and, in the other, a crooked boxing manager. Either way, because of their schemes, two innocent players had taken an eternal residency in the theatre of the dead.

Well, you might be able to escape the mob but you can’t escape the truth, and soon Lomax and Malone were proving that.

Not that they did it alone. They had help. Lomax, from a guy the world knew only as Mike "The Brute" Sekowsky, and Malone from a guy they called Mike "Man-Thing" Ploog. It was good help. It cast them in a good light. It let the world see that Lomax spent all his time with a cigarette in his mouth, and his hands in his pockets. He was relaxed. Relaxed but sharp. Malone was sharp too. Dishevelled but with a mind like a steel trap. He could spot things, like the fact a chauffeur might be wearing a ring that could only belong to a supposedly deceased boxing manager.

But even “The Brute” and “The Man-Thing” couldn’t disguise one fact. That, for all their remorseless efficiency, there was something oddly familiar about the pair. When he looked in the mirror, Lomax couldn’t help wondering if he was just Kojak with hair, and Malone couldn’t help noticing he was a cross between Philip Marlowe and Clint Eastwood.

Did they care?

Lomax, Atlas Comics, Police Action #1They didn’t seem to. They’d been around long enough to know the score, that, to survive on the mean streets of comics distribution, a man must play a part, be it a saint or a sinner and, even if it’s a part that’s been played a thousand times, still it must be played again. It was those cities. Those great, tawdry cities. New York and San Francisco. They were those kinds of towns.

Atlas Town was that kind of town too. And, as the rain once more lashed its sidewalks - as though trying to wash away a deal based on anger and a need for revenge - Lomax and Malone knew it. They knew that in Atlas Town you either played the part they’d given you or you didn’t belong there. A man might try to break the mould, to be something new, something different but the grinding wheels of the print room would roll right over you until, three months down the line you couldn’t even recognise your own face anymore, as though you’d been replaced by a totally different character bearing your name.

And then? You disappeared, never to be seen again.

But then, there was hope. Hope that those who’d bought a one-way ticket out of Atlas Town might be seen again. Rumour was a guy they called the Phoenix had managed it - and a guy who only his friends called the Grim Ghost. Those guys who came back, would Lomax and Malone be amongst them?

Only the rain could know. And, like every double-crossing dame you ever met, right now it wasn’t telling.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Kull the Destroyer #18. Lost in the swamps.

Marvel Comics Kull the Destroyer #18Not that I was prejudiced but it always seemed a bit redundant to me for Marvel to give Robert E Howard’s Kull a comic of his own. Bearing in mind Kull just seemed to be an earlier, less successful version of Conan, why would the world want to read his adventures when there were already two Conan mags regularly hitting the news stands?

But Marvel were never ones to spot a bandwagon without flinging everything on it and so, give him his own comic they did.

I only ever had one issue and it’s a sign of the lack of impact it made on me that I didn’t even remember having owned it until I spotted its cover on eBay and had the nagging feeling it had once been mine.

It’s odd then that, reading it now, it’s surprisingly good. I couldn’t claim to have the slightest clue what’s going on but that’s a whole other matter.

This is what I do know. There’s a city. Every night it gets attacked by some flying monsters. So, Kull - who’s no longer king - leads a small army into the swamps to confront whoever’s behind the attacks.

That’s when it gets confusing as they bump into a bunch of talking man-apes who tell them they’re up against a god who’s also a dead man. Except they’re also up against a big monster that killed the god who’s a dead man. Except they’re also up against a sorcerer who controls both the big monster and the god who’s a dead man. Then a woman turns up on a flying horse and turns into a man who apparently hates Kull even though in his female form he likes Kull. Frankly, I don’t by this point have any idea what’s going on or who any of these people are.

Marvel Comics Kull the Destroyer #18The strange thing is it’s actually quite nice to not know what’s going on. It creates the impression of an involved and complex tale that’s been spread over a number of issues, with a detailed back-story. A contrast to Conan the Barbarian which mostly eschewed an overall story arc and would diligently, and sometimes superfluously, give us flashback sequences to ward off all possible confusion. This comic simply assumes we’ve read previous issues and therefore know what anyone’s talking about.

Disorienting though the approach is, it does give a sense of greater depth and involvement than we got from Conan the Barbarian. Most importantly, it serves to create a noticeably different reader experience from that mag, thus disposing of the sense of duplication and redundancy the strip threatened to have.

It also doesn’t hurt that the thing looks good, drawn as it is by Ed Hannigan in a vaguely John Buscema-esque manner but inked by the always lush Alfredo Alcala.

Overall, it just goes to show that, like most of Kull’s foes, the human memory’s a strange beast, having left me with strong recollections of disastrous fare like Ironjaw while denying me all recall of much stronger offerings like this.

Then again, in this issue it’s established that someone’s tampering with Kull’s mind to make him forget things. Could it be that I too am prey to vile and arcane sorcery? Tarim's Blood! Hand me my broadsword! I wager a magician will be losing his head afore this night is through!

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Atlas Comics, Ironjaw #1. Just a normal, regular guy.

Atlas Comics Ironjaw #1, Neal Adams cover
The power of this blog’s incredible. I start reviewing Atlas Comics, and Martin Goodman’s grandson promptly declares Atlas Comics is to make a comeback, with returns for the Phoenix and the Grim Ghost. I don’t know if I should use such power for good or for evil.

One Atlas hero not yet revived is Ironjaw the barbarian who, we’re told is a hero like no other.

Well, that might be because his first instinct upon meeting men is to kill them, his first instinct upon meeting children is to kill them and his first instinct upon meeting women is to rape them.

But don’t worry. Our hero has a softer side. In between raping and killing, he likes to philosophize. He spends his time chuntering on about how cowards deserve to die, the old deserve to die, the weak deserve to be bullied and women are a total waste of space.

With a personality like that you might think he’d have a huge circle of friends but, oddly enough, when we first encounter him, he’s on his own. He has a horse - which hasn’t run out on him, so I assume he at least hasn’t tried raping that yet. But, while out looking for things to kill, Ironjaw comes across a nubile blonde and her ageing father being attacked by bad people. Needless to say, he leaves the man to die but rescues the girl so he can take her back to a cave to rape her. Bafflingly, this seems to win her over and, before you know it, she’s happy to be his new girlfriend. That’s when they’re captured by the local guard.

It seems that, unknown to him, Ironjaw's the son of the King and Queen, who want him dead.

Atlas Comics Ironjaw #1, How not to talk to your own sister
Ironjaw meets his sister!
Still, at least he’s not an only child. He has a sister, who, upon meeting her, he immediately tries to rape. Seriously, I’m not making this up. This is like some weird send-up of Conan but seems to be meant to be taken seriously.

Happily for Ironjaw - but perhaps unhappily for the rest of humanity - our hero takes a break from trying to rape everyone, for long enough to escape. But, just as he’s about to leave, he decides he’s not got tired of humping his new girlfriend yet, and so might as well go back and give her one get her out of her dungeon. Continued Next Issue.

It’s easy to make fun of Atlas Comics’ comics. The fact they all failed before reaching even issue #5 makes them soft meat when portraying them as an object lesson in how not to do graphic narrative but this comic really is terrible. It gives us a hero who’d be a villain in any tale not created by madmen, and its most eye-popping feature is its last-page editorial which tells us that writer Michael "The Spectre" Fleisher (it’s him again) has deliberately made Ironjaw like a real-life human being, doing and saying only the things a real-life man would.

All I can say is, “Michael Fleisher; who exactly were you hanging around with in those days?”

Saturday 11 September 2010

Targitt #1. Can Atlas finally hit the bullseye?

Atlas Comics, Targitt #1Hand me my revolvers, it’s time I blew me away some criminal scum.

Yes it’s another Atlas comic and another Atlas hero who just can’t stop killing people. Still, at least this time he has the excuse that everyone seems to want to kill him.

No, he’s not a wheel clamper. He’s John Targitt, FBI, and he’s a man on a mission. No sooner have we met him than the plane his wife and kid are on is blown up and he’s launching himself on a one-man war of revenge on the mob. Let’s just say the spirits of Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen loom large over this mag, although I suppose you’d guess that from the title alone.

Despite that set-up, he actually seems surprisingly lacking in anger. A lot of that has to be down to the artwork. The strip’s central concept, character and plot are so hard-boiled you could drop them from a helicopter and it’s the ground that’d break on impact, but its pictures are a whole other matter.

Artist Howard Nostrand’s style has a tidy simplicity about it that accepts a comic book panel’s a small thing, and too much clutter’s a bad thing. But his style’s an odd fit for the story. Despite the violent nature of the script, the pictures have a light, often comedic feel you suspect would be more at home in the likes of Shazam, Supergirl or even Prez.

A harsher man might put such an unlikely pairing of words and visuals down to editorial incompetence but it’s actually an asset. There’s no denying it would’ve been more sensible to hire an artist who did mean and moody but it would also have been far less interesting. The contrast between writing and pictures is what makes the strip appealing and makes Targitt easily one of the more visually pleasing Atlas comics I’ve come across.

Atlas Comics Targitt #1
Hard-assed drama or dark comedy?
Whisper it quietly but, despite what one might expect, the mag has other pluses too. Unlike other Atlas titles I’ve read recently, it actually feels like it has potential. Despite his all-action nature, John Targitt isn’t a complete block of wood. Unlike the Brute and the Tarantula, he has a motivation and his supporting cast may be small - his boss and a woman whose exact job isn’t clear - but all three characters have the potential to be properly explored and fleshed out in future issues.

Of course, this is Atlas, so that’s not to say they will be fleshed out (and I see, taking a peek at the Grand Comics Database, that next issue he seems to be wearing some sort of gimp outfit) but, in the hands of a good writer, they could be made interesting. There’s even a suggestion Targitt’s boss is crooked, a rare case perhaps of an Atlas title having been thought through beyond the first issue.

Despite my reservations about the way Atlas'll no doubt squander the strip’s promise, I’d actually like to see issue #2, to find out how it develops - and there haven’t been many Atlas Comics I’ve been able to say that about.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

The Tarantula, Weird Suspense #1.

Atlas Comics, Weird Suspense #1, the TarantulaAtlas Comics really did like to make life hard for themselves. Not only did they give us The Brute, a non-thinking, non-speaking serial killer as a hero, they also gave us the Tarantula, a thinking, speaking serial killer as a hero. Marvel Comics of course gave us a Tarantula too. He was a mercenary and a bad guy. This one’s meant to be a good guy.

It seems that, centuries ago, his ancestor Count Lycosa helped kill a scantily clad witch who was terrorising the locals with her giant arachnids. She thus cursed him that all his male heirs would become human spiders and drink human blood. When we join the modern Count Lycosa, he too’s a victim of the curse.

Obviously he’s tormented by it and can’t sleep at nights.

Well, not really. In fact he doesn’t seem at all bothered and, from what we can see, appears to be quite the contented count.

Writer Michael Fleisher seems to be enjoying himself too. After his mass slaughter with The Brute and The Spectre, he continues in his usual vein by killing six people in the first five pages of this story before going on to slaughter dozens more in the rest of the comic. I wouldn’t want to be rude by suggesting that at this stage in his life Mr Fleisher should've considered visiting a therapist but I am starting to spot a trend with his writing.

Atlas Comics the Tarantula #1

I actually quite like the flashback sequence to “middle Europe” and the tarantula-worshipping witch. It might not make that much sense - and how the original Count managed to fool anyone into thinking he was a giant tarantula by dressing up as one is anybody’s guess - but still.

The only problem with it is that so much of the issue’s dedicated to that flashback that we don’t get any chance to know the modern-day Count. Who is he? What’s he about? He is after all meant to be the star of the comic but we barely see anything of him. It means our entire knowledge of him is he lives with a servant and is happy to eat escaped convicts.

Having had his snack he then declares he’s going to use his powers to fight crime. No reason’s given for this sudden mild inclination to be a super-hero. Peter Parker decided to use his powers for good because he felt guilty about his part in the death of his Uncle Ben. Count Lycosa simply does it on a whim. As a motivation it’s hardly what you’d call compelling.

But ultimately the main flaw’s obvious to everyone except the good folk at Atlas. The Tarantula’s a hideous and grotesque killer human spider whose only power seems to be eating people.

Still, Atlas publisher Martin Goodman once famously told Stan Lee that no one would read the adventures of Spider-Man because everyone hates spiders. So, no doubt, despite my nay-saying, the Tarantula was destined for the same kind of success as Spider-Man who he so closely completely failed to resemble.

Wasn’t he?

Monday 6 September 2010

The Spectre, Adventure Comics #439. Alive alive oh.

Adventure Comics #439, Jim Aparo, The voice that doomed the SpectreNow I have a problem. Having said Michael Fleisher’s The Brute was no good in my last review I have to try and work out why his version of the Spectre’s any better.

It’s not as easy a task as I’d like, and I do wonder whether, if this comic said "Atlas" on it instead of “DC”, I’d be much less well-disposed toward it. It shares many of the same weaknesses, dominated by plot to such a degree that characters don’t act like real people - doing what they do merely to enable the plot to follow its decreed course - unnatural dialogue and an unsympathetic “hero” who blunders around remorselessly killing people.

On the plus side, Fleisher shows more imagination in terms of how people get killed than he did there and, unlike the Brute, the Spectre can at least speak and think and not just hang around in a cage for most of a story, going, “Aargh.”

In this issue, Fleisher endeavours to flesh out his cast a little. For the most part in the Spectre tales I’ve read by him, Jim Corrigan’s only been there to arrive at a murder scene and then turn into his alter-ego. Here, we finally get something that resembles a private life as his young lady friend Gwen Sterling tries to get him to marry her.

Why she wants to marry him’s a bit of a mystery. From what we can see, when the Spectre shows up she finds him and his activities terrifying but announces her relief when Jim Corrigan appears. “Oh, Jim!” she declares, “Thank heaven you’re here! It was horrible!” Except she clearly knows Jim and the Spectre are the same person and that it was therefore Jim who was doing the “horrible”. If she’s terrified by the Spectre, why does she feel secure in the presence of his alter-ego? It goes back to Fleisher’s inability to get into his characters heads beyond the needs of the plot.

Regardless, back at his apartment, Jim asks to be released from his mission and again become human.

That wish is granted.

Sadly, it doesn’t occur to God, or whoever it’s meant to be, to tell him.

And so, the next day, Corrigan promptly steps into the path of a bullet, thinking he’s still unkillable. Corrigan’s clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. You’d have thought the fact he’s started the day with breakfast might’ve told him he’s alive, unless ghosts are in the habit of eating.

Happily, Jim survives the shooting and, delighted to now be fully corporeal, proposes to the lovely Gwendolyn. Dark clouds are however looming over Chez Corrigan, as gangster Ducky McLaren determines the detective must die.

The Spectre never had a funeral, Adventure Comics #439, Jim Aparo and Michael FleisherIn terms of character development it’s still limited compared to what we’d been getting from the likes of Spider-Man (even stealing the name of Peter Parker’s girlfriend can’t disguise that) and it wasn’t enough to save the strip from being dropped a couple of issues later to be replaced by the less than stellar Aquaman. I never had the second part of this tale but I assume that, by its conclusion, Corrigan was dead again, possibly having sacrificed himself to save Gwen.

Ultimately, you could argue the Spectre really isn’t all that much better in its writing than the strips Fleisher inflicted on us in those Atlas mags but it does have one very big plus - which is the artwork of Jim Aparo. Whatever the limits of the script, he gave his run on the title an air of class, quality and style that was missing from most Atlas publications.

So, in the end, maybe it just goes to prove what we don’t always like to admit, that in a comic book the pictures matter a whole lot more than the words.

But this is an issue of Adventure Comics not The Spectre and so the travails of Jim Corrigan occupy just half the comic. The other half’s in the form of a serial called The Seven Soldiers of Victory.

It’s an odd thing, having been written in the Golden Age but dusted down and drawn in the Bronze Age. In this instalment, the Green Arrow and Speedy find the astral bodies arguing with Father Time over which phase of the moon should be in the sky tonight. Our heroes sort it all out with a bit of wit and ingenuity before getting a ride home on a comet.

It’s a silly, frivolous tale that really does have “Golden Age” stamped all over it and why it was thought vitally important it be revived I couldn’t say but it’s painless to read and does at least provide a nice contrast to the grim and gritty world of the Spectre.

Saturday 4 September 2010

Atlas Comics' The Brute #1. Having friends for dinner.

Atlas Comics The Brute #1The good news for all lovers of failed 1970s comic book companies is I’ve recently acquired a whole bunch of Atlas Comics.

The bad news for me is that to review them I’m going to have to read them.

If I’m honest, like the glutton I am I’ve already taken a peek at all of them, and the thing that strikes me is that, even though they’re written and drawn by different people, there seems to be some sort of house style going on. I’m not saying it’s a good house style but it’s there and I’ll no doubt be touching on it as I do the other reviews.

But let’s kick off with the mag that featured probably my favourite cover of any Atlas Comic, The Brute. Lovers of the old movie Trog’ll need no introduction to the concept, as a group of boys find an ape man living in a cave. Being the hero of the book, he then befriends them before setting off to fight crime and defend the weak, picking up a colourful costume and a sidekick along the way.

Well. No. Being an ape man he kills two of them and, as far as I can make out, eats them. It’s certainly a new approach to the concept of the American comic book, the super-hero cannibal.

The local townsfolk, having no liking for such fancy innovation, aren’t going to stand for that sort of behaviour and so, after murdering a reporter, the Brute’s put into captivity whereupon he murders someone else and goes on the run.

This is the only issue of The Brute I ever had as a kid, so I don’t have a clue what happened with future instalments but, on the strength of this, it’s madness. They have a central character who doesn’t think, doesn’t speak, has no motivation, has no super-powers, no gadgets, no gimmicks and murders anything that moves. Spider-Man he ain’t.

Atlas Comics The Brute #1 caged
The Brute tackles his first super-villain.

But then maybe that’s the problem with Atlas characters in general. You don’t get the feeling an awful lot of thought was put into them and just what was going to be done with them after the first issue. The thing’s written by Mike Fleisher who wrote the noticeably blood-thirsty Spectre stories for DC and clearly brought that sensibility with him to Atlas. Sadly, what he didn’t bring was any of that strip’s style, or any interest in human beings. Was this a reflection on the mind-set of Mike Fleisher or was it a reflection on the fact that he seemed to be seen by Atlas Comics as their answer to Stan Lee, writing a bewildering number of titles at once and possibly stretching himself far too thin in the process?

Sadly, as Atlas demonstrated, not everyone can be Stan Lee.

And not every brainless hero can be the Hulk.

Friday 3 September 2010

Jimmy Olsen #160. Harpies Bizarre.

Jimmy Olsen #160 harpies and SupermanTo be honest, I don't know that much about Jimmy Olsen. I was never a regular reader of his mag, and the only two issues I ever had were given to me by my dad's then-girlfriend but, on the strength of this issue, Jimmy Olsen seems to be someone you'd happily punch in the mouth.

How much is anyone ever going to warm to a man who keeps telling everyone to call him Mr Action? "Hi, I'm Steve from Steve Does Comics but you can call me Mr Action." It's never going to get you more than funny looks and your head shoved down the nearest toilet.

This issue's first tale starts off like an episode of Scooby Doo, when Olsen shows up at a castle that, like all castles in American comics, has been imported stone-by-stone from England -- only to find it's haunted by harpies. Unlike Scooby Doo, the harpies are real and soon causing all kinds of trouble for Mr Action.

Happily, he soon sorts them out but then decides he's not worthy of being called Mr Action unless he helps them, and so has Superman fly their castle, intact, back to England where they can haunt it forever in peace. Clearly it's the rule in Jimmy Olsen tales that Superman has to show up at some point in order to justify the comic's title of Superman's Pal.

In our second tale, Mr Action - who we're told every hot chick on the planet digs - is being stalked by an old woman called Lena Lawrence who turns out to Lucy Lane after a particularly bothersome bout of native medicine. Lucy's delighted to be reunited with the man she adores but can Jimmy possibly love her now she's not fit any more? Highlight of the tale has to be a bizarre rally in which competitors die with alarming regularity, including one poor biker who somewhat hilariously rides his bike straight off the side of a cliff.

Both tales are appealingly drawn by the mighty Kurt Schaffenberger but you can't ignore the fact they're a bit bubblegum, the first in particular feeling like it could've been published a good ten years earlier. The second tale's stronger, having a mystery and a bit of internal emotional conflict at the heart of it but neither story can get round the unsympathetic nature of its star. In the second tale, Olsen even tries to rough up an old woman who's just saved his life. He might be Mr Action but no way would you ever label him Mr Social Skills.