Comic Books, Cartoons, Comic Strips



MARTIN H. GREENBERG, Editor – The Further Adventures of Batman. Bantam, paperback original, 1989.

   In connection with all the recent Batman hype, someone had the bright (and, I think, interesting) idea of having various writers of genre fiction try their hands at writing a Batman adventure. For the most part, alas, the Batman comes across as little more than a Comic Book character.

   This collection of fourteen stories by fifteen authors opens with Robert Sheckley’ s “Death of a Dreammaster,” which peters out after a promising premise. It’s followed by the two best stories in the book: Henry Slesar’s “Bats,” in which Batman has seemingly gone crazy, and Joe R. Lansdale’s “Subway Jack,” about a serial killer murdering bag ladies on the subway.

   Unfortunately, the rest of the stories, except for occasional high spots in Mike Resnick’s “Neutral Ground” and Edward Wellen’s Riddler story “Wise Men of Gotham” are pretty much ho-hum at best.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #42, November 1989.


1 • Death of the Dreammaster • novella by Robert Sheckley
69 • Bats • novelette by Henry Slesar
101 • Subway Jack • novelette by Joe R. Lansdale
139 • The Sound of One Hand Clapping • short story by Max Allan Collins
159 • Neutral Ground • short story by Mike Resnick
165 • Batman in Nighttown • novelette by Karen Haber and Robert Silverberg
191 • The Batman Memos • short story by Stuart M. Kaminsky
207 • Wise Men of Gotham • • novelette by Edward Wellen
247 • Northwestward • [Black Widowers] short story by Isaac Asimov
267 • Daddy’s Girl • short story by William F. Nolan
285 • Command Performance • novella by Howard Goldsmith
343 • The Pirate of Millionaires’ Cove • short story by Edward D. Hoch
363 • The Origin of the Polarizer • novelette by George Alec Effinger
393 • Idol • short story by Ed Gorman

   I’ve been meaning to do this for quite a while. I don’t go to the comic pages in my daily newspaper first everyday, but they come close. The ratings below, on a scale from 0 to 100, are totally subjective, and if I were to do this again a few months from now, they’d probably change, but not by too much, I hope. I won’t describe any of them. If there are any you’re not familiar with, well, that’s what they invented Google for. Feel free to comment, however, and if you have any favorites that the Courant doesn’t carry, I’d like to know about them.

PEANUTS Charles Schulz. 98
CLASSIC DOONESBURY Garry Trudeau. Not read.
GARFIELD Jim Davis. 90
SHOE Gary Brookins & Susie MacNelly. 90
DUSTIN Steve Kelley & Jeff Parker 90
MUTTS Patrick MacDonnell 92
ARCTIC CIRCLE Alex Hallett 40
JUMP START Robb Armstrong 30
GET FUZZY Darby Conley 10
BLONDIE Dean Young & John Marshall 95
DILBERT Scott Adams 98
GIL THORPE Neal Rubin & Frank McLaughlin Not read.
MARY WORTH Karen Moy & June Brigham Not read.
REX MORGAN, M. D. Terry Beatty Not read.
JUDGE PARKER Woody Wilson & Mike Manley Not read.
BALDO Canu & Castellanos 88
LIO Mark Tatulli 20
WIZARD OF ID Johnny Hart & Brant Parker 80
MONTY Jim Meddick 25
B.C. Hart 85
BEETLE BAILEY Mort, Greg & Brian Walker 92
HI & LOIS Greg & Brian Walker and Chance Browne 92
NON SEQUITUR Wiley Miller 10
CURTIS Ray Billingsley 85
PICKLES Brian Crane 99
ZITS Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman 92
ROSE IS ROSE Pat Brady & Don Wimmer 40
ZIPPY Bill Griffith Not read.

   Ha! Not as easy as I thought. I’ve changed some of these numbers several times already.

   I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to see both of these:


   Marvel Comics’ Ghost Rider (2007) was a box office success, and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s fun, energetic, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Plus, at that time, Nicholas Cage was still a major box office draw and not doing the types of indies and direct to streaming features he is doing now.

   The trailer pretty much gives away the whole story, although not some of the more convoluted parts of the often confusing plot. A guy makes a deal with the devil, becomes a successful stunt motorcycle rider, then has to face a group of bad demons and save the world. Got it? Good. I can’t say it’s a good film because it isn’t. The dialogue is pretty atrocious and the special effects look more silly than they do frightening. But seeing the recently departed Peter Fonda portray The Devil incarnate in a motorcycle movie was still worth the ride.

RICHARD LUPOFF – The Comic Book Killer. Bantam, paperback; 1st printing, February 1989. Previously published in hardcover by Offspring Press, 1988. This earlier edition also contains bound-in black & white comic pages and a separate full color comic book “Gangsters at War” in a slip case. (This specially created comic book has a crucial role in the story.) Also published by Borgo Press, paperback, 2012.

   I’m of two minds about this one. As the title indicates, this first real mystery that insurance adjuster Hobart Lindsey has ever had to deal with has to do with comic books, and comic book collecting in particular.

   Right up my alley! I’ve been collecting comics in one way or another since I was five — but not necessarily as “collectibles,” if you see what I mean, not hardly. This one begins when a comic book shop insured by Lindsey’s company reports the theft of $250,000 worth of comics.

   Lindsey is so unknowledgeable about comic books that he thinks the thief must have needed a truck to haul them away. The proprietor of the shop quickly disabuses of that idea. Only 35 books were stolen, and all of them could have fit in a single briefcase.

   Trying to make a good impression with his superiors, Lindsey decides to take an active role in the investigation. This puts him in close contact with Marvia Plum, the black (and definitely female) detective assigned to the case. An immediate attraction develops, which leads to more.

   Of two minds, I said. Making this one more difficult than I expected to enjoy is that I did not find Hobart Lindsey a very engaging protagonist. In the first few chapters especially I found him both callow and not particularly likeable.

   And we learn even less about Marvia Plum. An unanswered question I kept asking myself is what does she see in him. Worse, the only character I really related to is the first murder victim. There is also one huge coincidence that needs to be swallowed as well. For me, it didn’t spoil the book, but it didn’t go down all that easily either.

   A mixed bag, then, but there is no doubt that author Richard Lupoff knows his comic book history, and that was a big plus. If that’s a subject matter you’re interested in, I think you’ll find as much to like in that regard as I did.

      The Hobart Lindsey / Marvia Plum series —

The Comic Book Killer (1989)
The Classic Car Killer (1991)
The Bessie Blue Killer (1994)
The Sepia Siren Killer (1994)
The Cover Girl Killer (1995)
The Silver Chariot Killer (1997)
The Radio Red Killer (1997, Marvia Plum alone)
One Murder at a Time: The Casebook of Lindsey & Plum (2001; story collection)
The Emerald Cat Killer (2010)


JUANJO GUARNIDO & JUAN DIAZ CANALES – Blacksad. Dark Horse Comics. hardcover, 2010. Contains the first three stories: “Somewhere Within the Shadows,” “Arctic Nation” and “Red Soul.” Other albums are “Blacksad: A Silent Hell” and “Blacksad: Amarillo.” Originally published in Spanish.

   There are mornings when you have trouble digesting your breakfast, especially when you find yourself in front of the dead body of an old flame, the remains of a beautiful dream.

   So opens the first adventure of John Blacksad, private eye in 1950’s New York and America. John Blacksad, the best new eye of this millennium for my money, a tough but compassionate man with the soul and voice of Philip Marlowe, the vengeful spirit of Mike Hammer, and the sheer cool of Peter Gunn, all wrapped up in the most fascinating private eye in decades. He is one cool cat, John Blacksad.

   A cool black cat. Literally. John Blacksad is an anthropromorphic cat in a world of anthropromorhic animals; racist polar bears, tough police dog cops named Smirnov, sadistic millionaire frogs (Ivo Statoc), a wisecracking fox newsman named Weekly (for how often he changes his underwear), serpent and rat assassins, you name it. It will probably come as no surprise that Blacksad’s creator Juanjo Guarnido is a Spanish Disney animator who worked on Zootopia, but this is no Disney cartoon.

   John Blacksad operates in Mean Streets as tough as any Raymond Chandler ever portrayed and in a world as corrupt. He would be at home in Black Mask if the pulp paper could have supported the lush drawings and beautiful coloring that marks the graphic novels. Frankly, in story terms, he wouldn’t suffer all that much as a prose hero, though those handsome graphics are impossible to underestimate in terms of impact.

   “Somewhere Within the Shadows” is the defining adventure, the origin of a sorts, Guarnido and Canales’ I, The Jury, John Blacksad’s mission statement. It opens with Blacksad summoned to the home of star dancer Natalia, an old flame, who has been found brutally murdered. Police dog cop Smirnov warns him off, but knows Blacksad won’t be stopped, and as Blacksad, who once protected Natalia from a stalker and was briefly her lover learns her love life was complicated. Complicated, and dangerous as a pair of killers, a knife wielding snake and a rat soon prove.

   Wounded, worked over, Blacksad isn’t about to stop, and when Smirnov comes to tell him the department has been ordered to lay off the case he surprises the private eye. A brutal and sadistic killer is trying to buy his way out of two murders, Natalia and another lover, a writer. Smirnov may be a cop but he won’t stand by and watch that happen. It’s an open invitation, find the killer and stop him and the Department will look the other way.

   Shades of Pat Chambers and Mike Hammer.

   Blacksad does find the killer and also his purpose in life. To avenge the helpless and take on the powerful and corrupt, but not before brief snapshots of various characters in the city (a walrus talent agent is memorable as is a literal gorilla bodyguard), and a surprising moment with a dying assassin in his office.

   The violence, when it comes, is cathartic, but there is far more to this, including rich humor and good storytelling. Blacksad owes something to Will Eisner and his famed Spirit, to whom Blacksad is a spiritual cousin visually and story wise.

   And so it begins.

   In “Arctic Nation” a missing little girl puts Blacksad in the middle of a series of brutal murders of black animals and against a Klan/Nazi like group of white animals called Arctic Nation. This is the one where he meets Weekly, his sidekick and eventually pal. “Red Soul” introduces a new female interest who will also become a regular.

   Private eyes have been around for a while in comics, before Superman, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel had Slam Bradley. Dan Turner had a long comic book run, and at various times tough PI’s like Ken Shannon and Sam Hill had runs in their own titles, Black Canary was even a private eye in her secret identity at one point. Most famously Mickey Spillane debuted Mike Hammer as the failed comic book hero Mike Danger.

   For the most part the two haven’t been as compatible as you might expect, even though there is a Golden Age adaptation of The Maltese Falcon. Some have done more with the genre than others, and likely the best was DC Comics Nathaniel Dusk by writer Don MacGreggor (who earlier created the independent Detectives Inc.) and artist Gene Golan, a visual and literary high mark for the private eye in comic book form. More recently there was a well done adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister done in black and white.

   But Blacksad is far and away the most successful of these attempts in terms of success with his audience. Somehow the anthropromorphic animals capture an aspect of the film noir universe that mere humans missed in this format. It’s as if Carl Barks of the brilliant Disney comics many of us grew up on had collaborated with Herge of the Tintin albums and added Robert B. Parker on the script. Shadows of Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Clifton Webb, George Sanders, Bogie, and Bacall appear in these pages transformed into their animal archtypes. The Blacksad saga turns everything you think you know about comics on its head, you have to see it to believe it, but don’t just look at the stunning visuals, Juan Diego Canales’ scripts and lyrical narrative are just as important.

   I’ll be surprised at anyone who loves private eyes, femme fatales, noir streets, or hard boiled tales isn’t taken by this no matter how much they may dislike or disdain comic books. Blacksad manages the neat trick of being both a paean to something nostalgic and itself entirely original and unique. No one is going to match this for a long time.

THAT’S MY BABY. Republic Pictures, 1944. Richard Arlen, Ellen Drew, Leonid Kinskey, Minor Watson, Richard Bailey. Director: William Berke.

   The setting for this definitively minor comedy effort from 1944 is supposed to be that of a comic book publisher’s office, which is why I rescued the DVD it’s available on from the $3 bin at a local record store. In truth, however — and the truth always comes out — Moody Productions looks more like an animated cartoon production facility, a supposition heavily reinforced by, well, the animated cartoon they produce on the quick that ends the movie.

   It turns out that the head of the firm (Minor Watson) is suffering from a bad case of the blues, and to cheer him up, his daughter (Ellen Drew) and her beau (Richar Arlen) bring into his home a whole host of vaudeville acts, with no success. Not until they discover what it was in his past that has not allowed him to even smile in some twenty years.

   This is a small time capsule of the kinds of acts that made people in small town America laugh. I don’t believe too many of these acts were ever preserved on film in many other ways. Many of these are pure corn, others are mildly amusing, and one, Gene Rodgers, the astoundingly good piano player, makes you wonder why you never heard of him before.

Mike Riley and His Musical Maniacs

Freddie Fisher and His Schnikelfritz Orchestra

Lita Baron, as Isabelita

The Guadalajara Trio

Gene Rodgers (boogie-woogie piano player)

Peppy and Peanuts

Mitchell & Lytell (office worker comedy routine)

Alphonse Bergé

Doris Duane

Adia Kuznetzoff (Russian singer)

Chuy Reyes and His Orchestra

Al Mardo and His Dog

Dewey ‘Pigmeat’ Markham

   Personally, if you were to ask me, it is a wonder that both Richard Arlen and Ellen Drew, both consigned to B-movie stardom at the time, ever had careers after making a movie such at this, with one of the weakest storylines of any comedy musical I’ve ever seen.

JESSICA JONES “AKA Ladies Night.” Marvel/Netflix. 10 October 2015 (Season 1, Episode 1). Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Mike Colter (Luke Cage), Rachael Taylor (Trish Walker), Erin Moriarty, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Tennant (Kilgrave). Created and written by Melssa Rosenberg. Based on the Marvel comic book character created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos. Director: SJ Clarkson.

   To tell you the truth, I’ve already watched the first three episodes of this series, mostly since it took me a while to be sure I had a solid grip on the story line. The goal of a first episode of a TV series is to get viewers interested enough to be sure come back for the next one, but not necessarily to reveal all of their secrete at once, especially if there is a long connected story line, and not just a bunch of one-off episodes.

   Maybe it’s me, and I haven’t adjusted to a new type of storytelling, but I think the producers of this series may have erred in not telling enough, or (perhaps) telling it too subtly. It could also be that they expected viewers to be more familiar with the characters from their background in comic books than I think they are. (It’s certainly not one of Marvel’s best known titles.)

   Jessica Jones, currently a private eye working on her own, is a flawed character, there’s no doubt about that. Something has happened in her past that makes it difficult for her to sleep at night, and worse, requires her to have a bottle or a flask of whiskey within arm’s reach whenever she’s awake. The first episode is designed to get us intrigued into learning more about what’s tormenting her, but it did take me all three episodes before I decided that, yes, I finally was sure was the overall story is about and the possible ways it could be going.

   I’ll get back to that. In this first episode she’s hired by a man and woman from Omaha, Nebraska, to find their daughter, who has dropped out of school and has gone missing. I don’t want to spoil anything to anyone who would like to see the show and hasn’t yet, but I will have to leave some hints, such as saying the same thing has happened to the missing girl that happened to Jessica, only in Jessica’s case, the consequences were so bad that that is the reason she is in the severe funk she is in.

   Another hint. The ending of this first episode makes it emphatically clear how bad the situation is for the missing girl — in a word, horrific — and if so, how bad was the experience for Jessica?

   Other characters in the story are brought in, including a sexual dalliance between Jessica and the black owner of a bar. I don’t believe his name comes up, but he will be important in episodes to come. The female lawyer who often hires Jessica to do jobs other PI’s can’t do is having a lesbian affair with one of her staff while she already has a full-time relationship with another. A talk show host named Trish seems to be (or have been) very close to Jessica, but if it was stated what the relationship is, I still didn’t catch it after three episodes.

   The other thing that is shown is that Jessica has superpowers. Super strength at least; perhaps super speed and/or agility. She doesn’t hide her powers, but she doesn’t go out of her way to show them off, either. Superpowers are, of course, only to be expected with a Marvel Comics heroine.

   The whole episode is filmed in what I call “comic book noir.” Brightly colored, with lots of off-kilter angles in what are some of the toughest areas of Manhattan, and they mean to show you exactly that every time they can.

   There is a lot of potential here. I have not gone into several other threads of the plot, many of which come to light only in the second and third episodes.. I’m sorry for rambling on the way I have, but if my objective to help you decide whether to watch this series or not, if you haven’t already, have I succeeded?


THE ADVENTURES OF LARIAT SAM. CBS, 1962. Terrytoons in association with Robert Keeshan Associates Voices: Dayton Allen did all the voices and Gene Wood sang the series theme.Written by Gene Wood and Tom Morrison. Produced by Gene Wood.

   We tend to remember the early influences on us growing up. At an early age I developed a fondness for comedy cartoon sheriffs such as Lariat Sam. THE ADVENTURES OF LARIAT SAM was developed for CAPTAIN KANGAROO (CBS, October 3, 1955 – December 8 1984). The early morning kid show starred Bob Keeshan as Captain Kangaroo. The kindly grandfatherly Captain was joined at the Treasure House (later the Captain’s Place) by Mr. Green Jeans (Hugh Brannum), puppets Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit (Cosmo Allegtetti), cartoons and many more characters and special guests.

   After five years of showing the same twenty-six episodes of TOM TERRIFIC Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) wanted something new. CBS in-house cartoon studio Terrytoons (MIGHTY MOUSE, DEPUTY DAWG, etc) would make the new show (as it did TOM TERRIFIC).

   Keeshan asked his writer Gene Wood (future successful announcer for game shows such as FAMILY FEUD) to produce and co-write a new cartoon with Terrytoons’ head writer Tom Morrison. With help from Keeshan, they came up with good guy Sheriff Lariat Sam and his sidekick Tippytoes, the Wonder Horse.

   Together the two cartoon crime fighters protected the town of Bent Saddles. Keeshan wanted LARIAT SAM to be non-violent so instead of a gun Sam had a magic lariat to capture the bad guys, usually Badlands Meeney and his sidekick J. Skulking Bushwack. Thirteen episodes were made of the cartoon Western. Each story was told in five short parts.

   Respected animation historian Jerry Beck wrote about ADVENTURES OF LARIAT SAM at one of his websites, Cartoon Research. The episode “The Mark of Zero” is included at the bottom of the article found here.

   Our YouTube example is The People Catcher:

   Badlands Meeney has a new science fiction toy he got to capture Lariat Sam, but Bushwack wrecks it. Luckily a scientist has just arrived in Bent Saddle and agrees to fix the People Catcher. Things don’t go as Badlands had hoped – they never do.

   As with all the series episodes, ADVENTURES OF LARIAT SAM was a funny silly cartoon aimed at young kids. The evil plans were delightfully absurd. Characters often talked to the audience. Puns and jokes were non-stop. The cartoon remains fun to watch, even for this adult.


JANE. BBC 2, 1982-84. Glynis Barbera as Jane Gay, Robin Bailey as Colonel Henry, Max Wall as Tombs, Dean Allen as Georgie Porgie, and Suzanne Danielle as Lola Pagola. Written by Mervyn Haisman; based on the long-running British The Daily Mirror comic strip “Jane” by Norman Pett. Title song written and performed by Neil Innes. Graphic Design Director: Graham McCallum. Illustrations: Paul Birkbeck. Producer Ian Keill. Directed by Andrew Gosling.

   JANE was an odd and dated series even when it first aired in 1982. Jane Gay was a cheerful innocent blonde beauty whose love for adventure always resulted with Jane trying to save the day while wearing nothing but her underwear. Her loyal companion was her dog Fritz, a dachshund (aka wiener-dog).

   JANE was based on a popular British comic strip created by Norman Pett, the comic strip JANE (aka JANE’S JOURNAL, OR THE DIARY OF A BRIGHT YOUNG THING) ran exclusive in The Daily Mirror from December 5, 1932 to October 10, 1959.

   Jane has been adapted to other forms. Chrystabel Leighton-Porter played Jane in a burlesque stage play in the 1940s that traveled Britain entertaining the troops and town people during WWII. Leighton-Porter also played Jane in a 1949 film, THE ADVENTURES OF JANE directed by Edward G. Whiting. A 1987 movie JANE AND THE LOST CITY starred Kirsten Hughes and was directed by Terry Marcel.

   The humor was juvenile, sexist and full of double entendres. The most unique aspect of the TV series was the settings. The actors performed in front of a green screen. Later a drawn background to resemble a comic strip background was added. The result featured an unusual look of the real actors performing within comic strip-like panels.

   The TV adaptation was an hour long made up of five ten minute long episodes. The YouTube video of JANE has merged all five episodes together. There would be a second series two years later in 1984 called JANE IN THE DESERT.

   Popular British actress Glynis Barber starred as Jane. Barber is better known for playing the strong independent roles of Soolin in Series Four of cult science fiction BLAKE’S 7 (1981) and Police Sgt. Harriet Makepeace in successful cop show DEMPSEY AND MAKEPEACE (1985-86). Jane was certainly a different type of woman for Barber to play, much to her credit Barber excelled in all three roles.

   Set during WWII the story begins when Colonel Henry ask Jane to join him on a secret mission. The two are to meet a Professor in a haunted mansion. Before they can find the Professor they learn there is a Nazi spy in the area. Luckily for England, even stripped to her underwear does not stop Jane from fighting off Nazis and the Colonel’s advances.

   JANE is a good example of a form of entertainment rarely seen today. That is a shame in a way. Jane was a determined woman who refused to let the limits she faced in that era’s culture stop her from experiencing a life of adventure. The men were all idiots for never seeing Jane as more than an object. Wisely, Jane willingly sacrificed her modesty for good of the entire free world — a job jolly well done.

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