Comic Books, Cartoons, Comic Strips


DAN SLOTT (writer) and JUAN BOBILLO & MERCELO SOSA (artists) – “Dead Certain.” She-Hulk: Marvel Comics, Number 3, July 2004.

   You may or may not keep up with comic books, but no, they’re not 10 cents any more. (The price of this one is $2.99, but as a back issue, which by the time you read this, as late as it will surely be, I am sure you will be able to find a copy for far less than that.)

SHE HULK #3

   And the vast majority of most comic books run in long continued stories (“arcs”), which means that if you pick one up a random, it will be part two of six, and you won’t have a clue about what’s going on.

   This particular issue, though, is a rarity – a story told all in one issue (but with lots of personal interplay going on, adding to the characterization, but not harmful to the plot to any discernible degree if you skip over it).

   I’ll assume that everyone is familiar, to some degree or another, with The Incredible Hulk – the much longer-running comic book series which was the basis of a television series some years ago and then, much more recently, a semi-disaster of a full treatment movie overladen with special effects.

   This latest version of the She-Hulk book series comic bis but another in Marvel Comics’ long line of efforts to siphon off some of the male Hulk’s popularity by creating a successful female counterpart – and no, I’m not going to get into all of the other attempts.

   Suffice it to say, perhaps that I believe that She-Hulk’s alter ego has always been Jen Walters, who may or may not has always been a top-notch lawyer in her real life, but who has the ability to transform herself into a seven foot tall green-skinned amazonian super-hero. Unlike the Hulk, whose intelligence (and skin color) seems to vary at the whim of the writer at the time, She-Hulk seems to be as intelligent as Jen Walters, but (naturally) much more powerful.

SHE HULK #3

   Um, I seem to have lost some readers who have gone on the next review. If you’re still with me, I’ll speed things up a little, but a little background would seem to be useful in the context of why I’m even telling you about this particular issue.

   After aircraft engineer Bailey Briggs is brutally murdered – by trapping him in a wind tunnel with one of his test engines still running – the chief witness against the defendant at the subsequent trail is – the ghost of Bailey Briggs. I’ll repeat that. His ghost. I believe this may be a first – one for the books, you might say – but if you can say otherwise and prove me wrong, I’d certainly like to know about it.

   An interesting twist is that Jen Walters, working for the defense, does not believe Bailey Briggs’ ghost – and yes, the judge rules that precedent has been established for such a turn of events, at least in the Marvel Universe – but why would a dead man lie?

   With She-Hulk’s assistance in carrying out the investigation, a most satisfactory answer to that question is obtained, and you’ll have to read the story for yourself to discover what it is. Neatly done, it is.

PostScript:   In terms of the artwork, Jen Walters and She-Hulk are drawn more baby-faced in appearance than appeals to me, but in their own stylish way, the pair of artists responsible for this issue (pencils and inks) carry off their half of the story-telling with nearly as much aplomb as the gentleman who wrote the words.

– May 2004

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


THE TWILIGHT ZONE Straczynski

J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI – The Twilight Zone, Volume 1 #1: The Way Out. Dynamite Entertainment, comic book, 2014. Illustrated by Guiu Vilanova. Colored by Vinicius Andrade. Lettered by Rob Steen. Main cover by Francesco Franvavilla.

   Carol Kramer Serling, widow of the late Rod Serling, remarked in a 1987 interview that, for the legendary creator of The Twilight Zone, “the ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in; becoming narcissistic.” In many ways, that very spirit of refusing to turn away from perceived social injustice animates the narrative in the brilliantly executed first issue of J. Michael Stracyznski’s The Twilight Zone comic book series (2014).

   The tall, muscular, and blonde-haired Trevor Richman wears a suit and tie, works in New York finance, and cheats on his blonde-haired girlfriend, Natalie Kyle, with the dark-haired Sandra. He is about to be indicted for white-collar criminal offenses. Knowing it’s only amount of time before the FBI catches up with him, Richman seeks the services of the mysterious, gray-bearded Martin Wylde, whose firm developed a nanotechnology pill which, if ingested, transforms so completely that they assume complete new identities, complete with new blood type, eye color, and fingerprints.

   Richman takes the pills and transforms into a new man — literally. Thomas Riley (same initials!) has dark hair — similar to Sandra and unlike Natalie. When Richman/Riley goes in for a cleaning appointment, the dentist tells him that his jaw is changing on its own and that he basically appears to have a new dental profile.

   Riley, unlike his former self as Richman, does not wear a tie; instead, he wears jeans. Although, suffice it to say, he didn’t need to take a pill to do either of those things. Riley, it would seem, still has Richman’s personality and memories, leading the reader to believe that the change, dramatic as it was, was merely physical.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE Straczynski

   Even a casual reader would notice the strong political subtext in “The Way Out.” Cheating Wall Street bankers, like Richman, are villainous. Wylde’s clients, we learn, are tyrants and dictators, war criminals, torturers, and … “a growing number of people from the financial services industry.”

   And one can almost hear echoes of Serling, known for introducing the theme of racial equality into his work, in Richman/Riley’s response to an African-American, a patron of a coffee shop, who wants white collar criminals in jail: “The legal system doesn’t work the same way for people at the top as it does for — well, for everyone else, for the people with power, for the people who matter…there’s always a way out.”

THE TWILIGHT ZONE Straczynski

   Vilanova and Andrade’s visual rendering of the patron’s face, ostensibly reacting to Richman/Riley’s over-the-top statement, is stunning. Still, one wonders whether the characters deliberately refer to the “FEC” and the “Federal Exchange Commission” or whether this was an oversight on the part of the author who should have written “SEC” and “Securities and Exchange Commission” instead. (The FEC is the Federal Election Commission, not really relevant to this story.)

   Unlike far too many comic books appearing on the shelves these days, the first issue of The Twilight Zone is well written, deals with serious subject matter, and contains artwork and coloring that works exceptionally well with the story. There were a couple instances, however, where I had to double check whether I understood correctly which character was which. But those moments were few and far between.

   In conclusion, Stracyznski, who wrote for the 1985 television reboot of The Twilight Zone has written the type of story one could easily imagine appearing the television show bearing its name. A tale, it should be noted, which with a dramatic cliffhanger — one I certainly didn’t see coming. I’m planning on going to the comic book store later this week and purchasing the next few issues in the series. I want to know how it all turns out.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


MAX ALLAN COLLINS - A Killing in Comics

MAX ALLAN COLLINS – A Killing in Comics. Berkley, trade paperback, May 2007. Illustrations by Terry Beatty.

   Another of Collins’ historical crime novels, this one is set in New York in 1948 in the world of comic book publishing. As usual, Collins has researched the period and subject (giving particular credit to Gerald Jones’ Men of Tomorrow).

   A number of pioneers in the field are present in disguise, with Superman and his creators Joe Siegel and Jerry Schuster recast as Wonder Guy and Harry Spiegel and Moe Shulman. The narrator is Jack Starr, stepson of Maggie Starr, who’s running Jack’s late father’s newspaper syndicate, distributor of the Wonder Guy strip. When a rival publisher is murdered, Jack conducts an unofficial investigation, with the author vividly evoking the colorful world of the comics and their creators.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


DANGER MOUSE

DANGER MOUSE. Animated. Episodes of five to twenty five minutes each. UK: 1981 through 1992. US: Nickelodeon premiered June 4, 1984. Cosgrove Hall Films. Thames Television. Created by Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall.   Voice Cast: Danger Mouse (David Jason), Penfold (Terry Scott), Colonel K (Edward Kelsey), Baron Silas Greenback (Edward Kelsey), Stiletto (Brian Trueman), Isambard Sinclair (David Jason), Nero (David Jason’s voice sped up). Available on DVD.   Recommended: The shorter episodes on YouTube over the longer ones available on Hulu.com and IMDB.com.

DANGER MOUSE

    “He’s the greatest. – He’s fantastic. – Wherever there is danger he’ll be there. – He’s the Ace. – He’s amazing. – He’s the strongest, he’s the quickest, he’s the best! Danger Mouse…” (Theme sung by Sheila Gott.)

    This action hero/spy comedy will appeal to all ages. The animation is limited, cheap, and guilty of reusing too much stock footage, but it also has a visually pleasing look and adds enough visual gags to be forgiven for its shortcomings.

DANGER MOUSE

    The writing is top notch British silly, not unlike Monty Python. Parody and satire is common and not limited to the obvious targets of Bond and John Drake (Danger Man). Bad jokes and silly puns are there as well for the kid in all of us, though I guess children could watch this cartoon as well.

    The character are well defined and funny. The narrator Isambard Sinclair introduces the story, explains things to the audience to keep the action moving, and occasionally asks questions at the end spoofing the narrators of old serials.

    The good guys are lead by Danger Mouse. DM is a white mouse with an eye patch that goes well with his white jumpsuit that has DM monogrammed over his left breast. He is everything his theme song claims he is and more. His sidekick Penfold is a daft, but loyal hamster, codenamed “Jigsaw” because he always falls to pieces.

DANGER MOUSE

    Colonel K is head of a secret organization and gives Danger Mouse his assignments. There is some question over what animal Colonel K is, a chinchilla or walrus (like it matters).

    The villains are lead by DM’s archenemy Blofeld … oops, I mean … Baron Silas Greenback, the fiendish frog, the terrible toad, whose only wish is to take over the world or kill Danger Mouse so he can take over the world. Filling the role of insane villain’s pet is Nero a fluffy white caterpillar. Stiletto is a crow, an idiot, and the Baron’s top henchman.

DANGER MOUSE

    DM and Penfold live in a red pillar-box near Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street. As any proper spy of that era, Danger Mouse has a special car. The Mark III can do a variety of things including fly.

    The plots the Baron creates to take over the world illustrates the series’ absurdist humor. In “Who Stole the Bagpipes?” bagpipes are sheep-like creatures grazing in Scotland. The Baron rustles ten thousand bagpipes to build a sonic weapon capable of destroying cities.

    “Lord of the Bungle” has the Baron turning elephants into sugar cubes so when heads of state all over the world put the sugar cubes into their tea the elephant will reappear and squash the government leader.

DANGER MOUSE

    My favorite is “The Dream Machine” when Danger Mouse and Pedfold are trapped in the Baron’s dream machine where surreal is reality, the impossible possible, and Penfold’s thoughts turn into visual puns.

    If you are willing to overcome the misguided prejudice that cartoons are just for kids, give this a try. Or find some child to watch it with. Neither of you will regret it.

   SOURCES:

        Wikipedia
        Cosgrove Hall Ate My Brain
        DangerMouse.org

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


CRIS HAMMOND – Speed Walker Private Eye. Pinnacle, paperback original; 1st printing, August 1984. A collection of the United Features comic strip, “Speed Walker Private Eye,” from May 2 through November 25, 1983.

SPEED WALKER PRIVATE EYE

   On May 2, 1983, a different kind of PI joined the comics page, “Speed Walker Private Eye.” Speed may not have been as smooth as Rip Kirby (King Features, 1946-1999) or as tough as Mike Hammer (Phoenix Features, 1953-1954), but he was funnier.

   The comic strip features three main characters: Speed Walker, a bumbling loser who solves mysteries no one else could; Sally Gelata, his secretary, a single woman with an attitude; and Lt. Lou Arches, the overweight idiot homicide detective and Speed’s friend.

   The art has a nice cartoony style with enough detail to help establish the theme, but the strip lacked action, rarely giving readers more than a picture of characters talking.

   The writing had its moments. But to try to tell a murder mystery with three months of daily gags, each needing to advance the story and have a punchline was more than anyone could expect.

SPEED WALKER PRIVATE EYE

   This book collection features “Speed Walker Private Eye” at its best. It contains two murder mysteries:

    In “The Simpson Case,” E.R. Lowman finds his partner dead with the victim’s wife holding the gun, just as Lowman had found his first partner thirty years earlier.

   Sample gag (June 3,1983): Speed is questioning psychiatrist Rinn as they sit on her office sofa:

      Panel One:

RINN: I’m so glad such a great private eye like you has taken on the Simpson Case. Now I know poor Valerie will get justice.

SPEED: Thank you, Dr. Rinn

      Panel Two:

SPEED: Tell me about Valerie Simpson.

RINN: Well, Mr. Walker. She is a raving nut, of course…

      Panel Three:

RINN: …and a crack shot.

      Panel Four:

RINN: But I didn’t think she would actually kill anyone.


SPEED WALKER PRIVATE EYE

   In “Chinese Cooking Class Murder,” Speed falls for a cooking classmate who is poisoned by Speed’s won ton.

   Sample gag (September 10,1983): Speed is sitting at his office desk as Lt. Lou Arches consoles him.

      Panel One:

SPEED: Just last night we were slicing and dicing — Wok partners, Lou — and now, (sob!) she’s gone.

LOU: Tough, her gettin’ bumped off like that.

      Panel Two:

SPEED: (sob!) I don’t think I can go on, Lou (whimper…)

LOU: How long did you know her?

      Panel Three:

SPEED: About ten minutes.

      Panel Four:

SPEED: But they were ten happy minutes, Lou.

LOU: Well, you can’t argue with happiness.


SPEED WALKER PRIVATE EYE

    “Speed Walker Private Eye” would end August 26,1984. There is a second book collection of this strip, Speed Walker Private Eye – Totally Fearless!! (…Within Reason),” published again by Pinnacle as a paperback original, December 1984.

    This second selection of strips features the search for the missing pearls stolen by Merle Searles and a run for President of the United States by a new character, Butch the sea gull.

   Samples of “Speed Walker” are available to view at cartoonist Cris Hammond website: http://www.crishammond.com/Pages/strips.html.

   Thanks to fellow member of google group rec.arts.comics.strips Charles Brubaker for providing the start and end dates for “Speed Walker Private Eye.”

A MOVIE REVIEW BY DAVID L. VINEYARD:         


THE EAGLE AND THE HAWK. Paramount Pictures, 1950. John Payne, Rhonda Fleming, Dennis O’Keefe, Eduardo Noriega, Thomas Gomez, Fred Clark, Frank Faylen, Grandon Rhodes, Walter Reed. Screenplay: Geoffrey Homes & Lewis R. Foster, based on a story by Jeff Arnold. Director: Lewis R. Foster.

THE EAGLE AND THE HAWk

    “I see a army building in the mountains, I see peasants with silver in their pockets for joining that army, and I hear El Captain speak of leading an army into Tejas when word and arms come from Presidente Juarez.”

   The time is 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, and Texas Ranger Todd Croydon (John Payne) is more than a little curious when the man he rescues from the Confederate army at the request of Governor Lubbock (Grandon Rhodes) of Texas proves to be Yankee spy Whitney Randolph (Dennis O’Keefe).

   The governor hasn’t turned traitor. O’Keefe is spying on Mexico not Texas. Someone is building an army on the border and O’Keefe has evidence it is part of plot by Napoleon III of France to seize Mexico and wrest it from President Benito Juarez’s fledgling democracy.

   Croydon agrees to escort Randolph to Mexico, and once they arrive they learn the plot is more dire than they suspected. Basil Danzeeger (Fred Clark), claiming to be an agent of Juarez, has convinced the charismatic El Captain, the Hawk (Thomas Gomez) to raise and army to invade Texas, vulnerable as the Civil War rages.

   What El Captain doesn’t know and must be convinced of is that Danzeeger is really an agent of Napoleon III and Maximillian, so Croydon agrees to spy on Danzeeger while Randolph infiltrates El Captain’s troops.

    “This spying business … wouldn’t be dangerous would it?”

    “Little bit. Worse that can happen to you is you get killed.”

THE EAGLE AND THE HAWk

   And to complicate things Croydon finds himself falling for Clark’s beautiful wife Madeline (Rhonda Fleming) a French agent who has been smuggling arms into Mexico, and Danzeeger’s right hand man Red Hyatt (Frank Faylen) thinks he remembers Croydon’s face — as he should since Croydon once shot him during a bank robbery.

    “So, what’s your name?”

    “Todd.”

    “Todd what?”

    “Just Todd, my mother was close mouthed.”

   Lewis R. Foster and John Payne teamed for several good tough films in this era including El Paso, Crosswinds, and Captain China, and this tough little A western is a good example.

   The script, co-written by mystery writer Geoffrey Homes (Daniel Mainwaring) is smart and tough with a dash of international intrigue added to the usual western mix, and Payne and O’Keefe make a good team, the taciturn man of action and the glib fast talking but equally brave secret agent. A running gag about O’Keefe’s uncanny luck at cards and dice and losing his boots actually ties into the plot.

   Payne and O’Keefe teamed in at least one other western from the same era, Passage West (1951). Foster is best remembered for writing the original story for Frank Capra’s classic Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, for which he won an Oscar.

THE EAGLE AND THE HAWk

   The highlights of the film occur when the captured Payne is tied between two wild mustangs, a la Byron’s Mazeppa, to be torn apart as they run wild, and the fiery confrontation on a burning mountain between Danzeeger, Croydon, and El Captain in the finale. James Wong Howe’s legendary touch as the cinematographer is another bonus.

   You can download the comic book adaptation of this here under Movie Westerns for free along with a free CBR (comic book reader).

   A minor A western with a solid cast and better than usual screenplay, The Eagle and the Hawk will hold your attention, and remind you how many of these solid entertainments Hollywood used to turn out seemingly without effort.

   Payne is tough and romantic, O’Keefe cool and slick, Fleming beautiful and passionate, Gomez dangerous but noble, Clark and Faylen treacherous and sadistic — a fairly stock cast, but done with intelligence by sure hands it all adds up to an entertaining oater with a touch of something more, and a tough literate screenplay adds to the film’s bonuses, as does James Wong Howe’s cinematography.

A COMIC BOOK REVIEW BY DAVID L. VINEYARD:         


ELLERY QUEEN #1. Ziff-Davis, Spring 1952.

ELLERY QUEEN Comic Book

   Crime more than mystery and detection has been a staple of comic books from the beginning. Two-fisted gumshoes and tough cops have always outnumbered the more intellectual types, but a few did manage to sneak in both in comic strip reprints and original material.

   Among that small company who had multiple titles of their own over the years from multiple publishers are Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan, and Ellery Queen.

   Ellery Queen may seem an odd choice for the comics, but having succeeded in every other media, there he was in Crackajack #23 (May 1940) from Dell Comics, running through issue #42 (December 1941) alongside Frank Thomas’s costumed hero, the Owl, and reprints of Tarzan, Red Ryder, Wash Tubbs, and Dan Dunn.

ELLERY QUEEN Comic Book

   Ellery next appeared in four issues of his own title from Superior in 1949 with art from EC horror comic staple Jack Kamen and L.B. Cole, then in 1952 Ellery returned in two issues from Ziff-Davis.

   In 1961 Ellery was back at Dell in Four Color Comics with art by Mike Sekowsky, a journeyman artist who also helmed Peter Gunn’s only comic book appearance and was the first artists on DC’s Justice League of America, as well as working on Wonder Woman and many other iconic characters.

   But here we are concerned with the Ziff-Davis issues from 1952. Ziff-Davis aimed its titles at older kids and adults and as a result has an eclectic run of titles from staples like science fiction, horror, and westerns to oddities like Sky Pilot about a missionary in the far North, Crime Clinic about a prison psychiatrist, and Captain Fleet about the captain of a freighter. Ellery would seem a perfect fit.

   Ziff-Davis was also set apart by its garish painted covers, often by pulp and later men’s magazine favorite Norman Saunders. Both issues of Ellery Queen sport Saunders’ covers with a muscular Ellery behaving more like Mike Hammer than Ellery Queen.

ELLERY QUEEN Comic Book

   Issue #2 even has a beautiful blonde being threatened by a brute with a red hot poker. Luckily the stories inside are a bit more subdued.

   Ellery Queen #1 for some reason has Ellery looking like actor William Gargan, who replaced Ralph Bellamy in the Columbia movie series. (In issue #2, again for no reason, he looks like Bellamy, though both are by the same artist.) The book features Ellery in two stories; the first a disposable crime tale “The Corpse That Killed” that Ellery solves’ by simply trailing some hoods to a cemetery. (See below.)

   The second is more ambitious, and actually features some detective work on Ellery’s part in a fairly interesting mystery, “The Chain Letter Murders.”

   The story opens as an elderly woman walks into an office, pulls out a gun, and kills a man. She flees, but falls in front of a bus and before she dies is overheard to say: It’s better this way.”

ELLERY QUEEN Comic Book

   Inspector Queen is still baffled when Ellery shows up, and they have hardly begun to sort that one out when the new boxing champ is murdered in his shower after double crossing a gambling ring. Ellery follows damp footprints to the room of a man in the iron lung — who confesses he killed the boxer, his last statement before silence: “It’s better this way.”

   But this time they find a letter in the killer’s apartment and a list of names. Ellery tracks down the next man on the list and prevents his murder, but again the would be killer only says: “It’s better this way.”

   Hiding the fact he and his father intervened in time to save the next man on the list, Ellery persuades the potential victim’s wife to pretend to be grieving, and he and his Dad wait for the inevitable suspect to show up.

   They follow the man to the remote Temple of Hope, home of the Mighty Eye cult and watch as the man pays an unseen figure and leaves. Now Ellery has it figured out, and pretends to attempt and fail at suicide to draw out the cult leader. It seems the man was using the cult to front a clever murder racket.

ELLERY QUEEN Comic Book

   Taking advantage of people he knew were suicidal but lacked the courage to die, he enlisted them in “the Legion of the Damned,” telling them they would receive a list of others like them wanting to die, and when they killed that person they would move up on the list, their own death a little closer. Then he contracted out to people who wanted someone dead and put their name on the list for money. Send out a chain letter, and the deed was as good as done.

   Alas, I don’t know who the writer and artist were, but the art is good and the story a bit closer to an actual mystery than we had any reason to hope for. There’s no challenge to the reader (there is in at least one of the Dell Four Color comics), but there is a fairly baffling mystery, and to be fair, it’s a pretty good idea — for a comic book mystery.

   Okay, it wouldn’t hold up in print, but for a comic book of that period it isn’t bad, and I’ve seen and heard more preposterous plots on radio and television dramas and more than a few movies. For a comic book, it’s about as close to the real Ellery Queen as we could hope.

ELLERY QUEEN Comic Book

   Except that we did get the real Ellery Queen once. The Maze Agency (Comico, 1989) was a comic book about a pair of private eyes, and in issue #9 the creators, long time Queen fans, got permission to have Ellery help them out in a mystery.

   It’s a nice little coda to Ellery’s on-again off-again comic book career. It certainly beats Charlie Chan’s final bow in The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan.

   Anyone interested can download the two Ziff-Davis Ellery Queen’s for free at goldenagecomics.co.uk where they will also direct you to free downloads of comic book readers (cbr and cbz) that are easy to install and use. There are also issues of The Saint available and much great old stuff from the early comics that is in public domain.

         ELLERY QUEEN Comic Book

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