Friday, September 12, 2008

Golden-Age Heroes unite!

After many man-hours, I finally "finished" the heroes pages at my site detailing the various golden-age heroes (mostly from comics, but a few obscure ones from other sources popped up) that don't make up the Timely/National/Quality/Fawcett/MLJ publishing empires. I use "finished" in the loosest terms possible. It means, everyone I currently have notations on or came across while in the process of building the pages. And, there are quite a few bare-bones entries. And, while I got Copperage's permission to use the micros from his site as a way to illustrate the looks, there are quite a few he doesn't have examples of. There are other sources of micros of course, but they are an artform in and of themselves, I don't feel comfortable making use of other people's work without citation, and I really don't want to footnote where each one comes from.

I originally wasn't going to do a site for the heroes. Way back when, I was doing a little bit of fan-fic with public domain GA characters. There were so many though. I started compiling notes from reprints, the few GA books I had and what I could glean from some of the resource books such as Jeff Rovin's superhero encyclopedia, Ron Goulart's various history of comics, and the two volumes of Steranko's. I ended up with fifty pages of notes and realized I had in my hands a resource not available anywhere. I toyed with the idea of putting it up on the web but I knew nothing about web design. And, then one of those rare coincidences occurred that happens with comics. Jess Nevins put up his site focusing on GA characters within weeks, almost at the same time I decided to start actually teach myself Dreamweaver. And, he covered the non-public domain ones as well! I had some he didn't have, he had a few I didn't know about. And, judging by the wording on a couple, we obviously had some of the same resource materials as well.

I asked him if he was going to do one on the villains as well, as they were woefully under-covered and he expressed no interest in that project. I knew I had a bit of information on the villains as well contained within the bios of the heroes, it just meant going back over the same stories and materials as before but looking at them from a different angle. Thus, my site was born. Although in retrospect, I often regret choosing Cash Gorman as my yahoo email name and thus the name of my pages. Although, I could make the argument that enough time has passed with nary a peep from Street & Smith, that it constitutes trademark abandonment but those type of cases usually come down to who has the most money to drag it out.

Jess Nevins' own site is very nice. But, it doesn't contain publishing dates, something that I found very useful as I was also compiling a "History of the Universe" timeline and it helps keeping various characters straight. Because characters would move from one company to another, sometimes the name would change, sometimes not. Whole stories would be lifted, sometimes with completely new heroes and sometimes they'd just change the name of the character. He also limits the characters to how he defines the GA time-span. So, a few interesting characters don't show up. And as he has focused lately on getting paid for his research and putting it into book form, regular updates went by the wayside. Finally, I noticed a few other heroes sites, but they often contained some eroneous information because they just copied the information from a few other sites. Such as the popular misconception that the Red Blazer and Captain Red Blazer are the same character. The information I had originally, had practically doubled since I first put it all together.

So, with the renewal and interest in GA characters thanks to projects from the various companies, I thought it time to possibly put my notes and information out there. I tried to be as accurate as possible, though I still rely on some second-hand sources. I can only say, I tried to verify information by cross-checking from various sources, and double-checking my information when I came across original reprints.

The GCD is a great resource, but quite a bit of eroneous information does make it in there from name spellings to actual incorrect information. As much as I like AC's reprints, Bill Black makes a habit of deliberately changing names and such as well, so a lot of that information also has to be double checked for accuracy (Overstreet's price guide also deliberately puts in false information). Even the afore-mentioned superhero encyclopedia by Jeff Rovin has several errors. Nothing replaces the actual reading of the comics themselves. But, just because you read one story with a character doesn't mean that the info from another source is wrong. Because, they were not anal about continuity back then. Lance Hale is a good example. Depending on what story you read, he's a jungle hero, a science-fiction hero, a generic adventurer type. Dan Hastings was at three different companies at least and stayed superficially the same, but specifics changed with each company. Chesler meanwhile often recycled character names or just put out different versions such as Dynamic Boy. I can only claim that there is no deliberate misinformation, not that it is error free. I try to draw attention to places where confusion could arise such as the Red Blazer - Captain Red Blazer. And, I will continue to cross-reference and double-check as I can now get back to regularly reading "new" old comics.


Amazing Spider-girl #24: A classic style cover with the central action going on and the heads along the border watching and reacting. Although, it was usually DC that always did this. Things come to a head as May and her clone finally meet and various plots and subplots advance. Which is really which though remains to be seen and there's plenty of superhero action all along the way to balance things out. A few of today's top-notch writers really should be reading this book and pay attention to the way it does plotting and sub-plotting and balancing things out. Defalco may not be a master of realistic dialogue, but he's great at juggling multiple stories and keeping it all very dynamic and flowing

B.P.R.D.: The Warning #3: A wonderful moody cover by Mike Mignola. And the usual excellent Guy Davis artwork, it's a great example of choosing the right people for the job. Unfortunately, this series of mini-series has fallen into the continuity trap. Each story is basically a continuation of what went before, more hunting of frog-men and such. This storyline seems to be even drawing together a few other past stories to the point that the characters themselves make note of it not really making much sense. The giant robot things look cool but it would be nice to see them going somewhere quite a bit different than tying everything into one long convoluted story.

El Diablo #1: I got this because I like Phil Hester's art and I like trying new characters on occasion, especially if they are kept separate from the event driven comics. Another big part was the fact that just because this comic is called El Diablo, it in no way invalidates the fantastic though short-lived Gerard Jones/Mike Parobeck comic and character. Wouldn't mind it if he pops up (and he'd be a natural for the JSA) but I'm happy just knowing he's still alive out there these days.

Other than the great art, the rest of the comic is a bit "meh". As another reviewer noted, it's very derivative of Marvel's Ghost Rider in concept, from the original mystical Old West hero to a spirit of vengeance and even the visuals of the cover. Add to it that other than the actual mystery of wondering what exactly is going on, there's no reason to feel any sympathy for the lead character. He's basically an unrepentent bad-ass. When by the third chapter of the issue they try to paint him as being a bit more complex (he uses some of his blood money for charity), it falls flat as we have already seen him having no compunction to kill anyone and everyone in his way.

Green Arrow and Black Canary #12: I have to give Winick props in that he came up with a completely logical and believable reason for Shado to be involved and a natural explanation for the kidnapping of Plastic Man. As long as you don't look too closely. There's a lot of people involved in this plot as well as a whole lot of technology and resources. While a very good fighter and assassin, she's not Lex Luthor. And, while Sivana's very cool, you have that kind of money and you need a doctor, would you really want to go to him? He'd be up there for robots, super weapons and super armies (witness what he does here), but as an MD? There's still a lot of trust put in to the vampire that can tell when people are lying but fell for the hologram.

Plus, frankly for a book called "Green Arrow And Black Canary" there's really not much done with them. Come on, the storyline involves a newly married couple, they are tracking down one of the husband's illegitimate children and discover the person behind it all is the woman that slept with him while he was delirious and incapacitated just so he could father a child with her, and the wife doesn't react at all? Winick really seems to have just lost what the focus of the book should be, he doesn't really know how to write both characters.

I'm conflicted over the artist Mike Norton. On the plus side, his artwork is very clear and easy to read from panel to panel. He doesn't skimp on the relevant detail and good on the action. No problem telling the characters apart. Yet, it's all so antiseptic, too clean and perfect, too restrained with no real atmosphere or sense of texture. Like he's drawing a coloring book. An artist should love to draw this book in that it has a ninja, archers, one of the company's most sexy characters, plastic man, batman, a vampire, and a bunch of other super-types and masked henchmen. He's better at the basics than many that are working with more acclaim, but he needs a little more oomph to it. The vampire, Shado and Batman should look dangerous, Sivana should give a creepy older uncle feel, Plastic Man zany, etc.

The Secret Six #1: Almost note by note perfect by writer Gail Simone and artist Nicola Scott. great cover with a sense of actual graphic design sense to it with stylized elments and color cast to it. Gail manages to introduce a new villain and his chief lieutenants in a scene that is full of colorful and humorous dialogue but laced with an atmosphere of absolute terror and menace.

The story moves organically and flows naturally, introducing us to the various characters and within the scenes and dialogue, we understand what each character is about, what their status quo is: Ragdoll is zany Plasticman gone to seed, Deadpool is an unrepentent killer and cynic with a great sarcastic wit, Catman is conflicted, Scandal is mired in depression over her personal loss, Bane seems just simple muscle with simple outlooks (don't know what one reviewer's problem was not recognizing him without his mask, he's called by name in the very first scene he's in).

Nicola Scott's artwork is what Mike Norton's needs. It's very clear in its scenes and storytelling, every bit as detailed where it needs to be. But, there's atmosphere and texture. Seedy scenes and characters are seedy looking. The emotion on Scandal's hung-over depressed face is palpable. The use of color is also wonderfully done, setting proper moods. Like the cover, the limited color scheme when we are introduced to the bare room and crate that Junior calls an office helps build the feeling of isolation and menace. One feels the heat off the African veldt. The yellow flourescent lit convenience store. The meeting room lit and warmed by a fireplace. The darkness of Gotham City.

However, I said "almost" note by note perfect. The coloring/printing is a little too dark in places, a common ailment these days. Scott has a wonderful attention to detail, not as slavish as Weston in drawing each and every brick, but still very detailed artwork. So, the special effect that puts a flat plaid pattern on Junior's two henchmen is very, very jarring in how obvious it is a special effect applied to the artwork. This would work on someone whose artwork is heavily stylized like Miller, Mignola, or Wagner. However, it is out of place with someone whose artwork is more realistic and organic. It throws you out of the artwork and story because you see the hand of the artist more than you do the art.

The problem with the story is a very basic one, a very basic question that isn't addressed at all. Why? There's the backstory of how they came together, a bunch of rogues that didn't want to be part of the big army of the big crossover a couple years back. However, that doesn't address in the least as to why are they still together. Every organization has a purpose. Superheroes get together to fight criminals, protect the innocent with a few other little twists added to the concept: the FF are an extended family and explorers, the X-men are basically adopted family banding together to protect themselves and others like them, the original DP a mix of the two, the Teen Titans and Legion of Super Heroes are teenage clubhouses and banding of friends. Likewise your villainous groups have purposes as well that are easily understood. However, as shown by the dialogue between Catman and Deadpool, we have two characters with long term incompatible goals. Catman is struggling with the idea of reforming. Deadpool wants to kill people and mocks Catman's struggle. The threat that brought them together really no longer exists, so why are they part of this group, what does it offer them? The group itself should be like a corporation in that it too should be treated as an individual and character: what are its goals and reasons for being? Where does its position in the scheme of things?

And, why the Secret Six? What does that name actually mean? They are hardly "secret" and in this issue they aren't even "six". It's a waste of a great name. Like the Suicide Squad, they were for DC a non-powered group*. In this case, they had a secret leader blackmailing them and they solved undercover cases. It is a great concept and could still fly today. Look at the popularity of USA's Burn Notice, that is the type of thing that the title "Secret Six" works with. A "Mission Impossible" vibe. The old tv show, not the movies. Costumed characters aren't really about people trying to work in secret. Even Giffen's defunct Suicide Squad title fits in better as it swopped out characters and operatives based on the cases.

*The Secret Six and Suicide Squad actually predate DC. Both were actually names for teams in the pulps. There, the Secret Six were a bit like DC's take in that they were an eclectic mix of individuals that worked together to solve bizarre cases while the Suicide Squad were a trio of G-Men that took on extremely dangerous cases. Interestingly, the Secret Six go back even further to a real life group of businessmen that organized together to take down Al Capone and then even further back to the Civil War as a group of businessmen that funded abolitionist John Brown.

The Twelve #1/2: A reprinting sample of the original stories of several of the cast, specifically Fiery Mask, Mr. E. and Rockman. There's a whole lot more action than in all seven issues of the title so far and one can see how these characters are heroic, especially as they have had next to nothing to do during the storyline. The Mr. E here is full of potential and comes across as a cool character while he comes across as nothing special under JMS' modernistic realist story-telling. Nice painted front cover though the colors are too dark/dense unless they are all are supposed to have sunburn. The cover with the supercar is a nod to the Daring Mystery cover that purportedly features the Fiery Mask. Weston's is technically superior but there's more sense of movement and speed from the original. Not a fan of the greenish gold trim either. Realistically, that is the way it would actually look, especially when dealing with print. But, it's not really what our brains tell us is the color of gold and when you see it in print like that, it registers more as "green" while Fiery Mask's shirt is translated as being "gold". Some of the arts in the back pages, there's some great use of textures by Weston, especially in the center panel of the Black Widow page or the botom panel of Electro. But the rest suffer from just being a bit too overly rendered, as he shows every nook and cranny in the backgrounds with the same level of detail as the foregrounds while he Blue Blade looks dwarflike. Notice that with the painted cover, Weston doesn't make the mistake with the buildings in the background, and the effect works. The foreground stuff pops out, even in the b/w drawn version of the pic in the inside back cover. The Black Widow piece on the back looks gorgeous. A beautiful sexy femme fatale with the suggestion of something inexplicably evil.

The War that Time Forgot #5: More of the same as from the past issues. I'm loving the covers by various comic masters and this one is a great one in terms of design and impending action as the Viking Prince is about to take on a tyrannasaur as done by Walt Simonson. What's especially nice is that the covers do illustrate a scene from the book.

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