Comic Books I’m Reading

BATMAN AND ROBIN “The Riddler.” First published in Detective Comics #140, October 1948. Facsimile edition: DC Comics, December 2023. Writer: Bill Finger. Penciler: Dick Sprang.

   I don’t know how many facsimile editions such as this that DC Comics has published – and if anyone can tell me where/how to find out, I’d really like to know – but let me tell you right now and up front, I think it’s a great idea, and I hope they’re making a lot of money at it.

   As far as I can tell, there’s only a couple of tiny places in the reprint edition of Detective Comics #140 differs from the original. One’s the price, as indicated on the front cover. In 1948, it was Ten Cents. Here and now in 2023, it’s $4.99. Taking inflation into account, I think today’s price is an out-and-out bargain.

   The other difference is the indicia – the small fine print at the bottom of the first page that describes the publishing info for the comic, all nicely updated for the newer version. The paper and coloring seems nicer too, but the only way to be certain about that is to go back to 1948 and buy a copy fresh off the newsstand, You’d need a time travel machine to start with, and then a slim Mercury (?) dime. (I’ll furnish the dime.)

   The reason for reprinting this particular issue didn’t make any big impression at the time, I’m sure, but it was the very first appearance of one of Batman’s favorite longstanding villains – well, a favorite of Batman’s fans, but perhaps not Batman himself – the Riddler. The latter’s real name was Edward Nigma (I’ll let you work that one out for yourself), and as this story relates it, the soon-to-be villain grew up as a schoolboy who loved puzzles of all kinds – well, so did I, but young Nigma cheated at doing them.

   When older, he became one of those guys who constantly challenged Batman to decipher a riddle or rebus which when unclued would tell the latter where and when the former’s next robbery or holdup would take place.

   All of the Riddler’s storylines were clever and a lot of fun to read. The artwork is still cartoony – but not overpoweringly so. I would like to think that both scriptwriter Bill Finger and artist Dick Sprang are in a comic book Hall of Fame. If not, they should be.

         Other stories in this issue:

Robotman: “Robotman’s Double Trouble”
Slam Bradley: “Dog for a Day”
Boy Commandos: “The Dictator from Alcatraz”


TARZAN #254. DC Comics, October 1976. Story: Gerry Conway & David Anthony Kraft, based on the novel Tarzan the Untamed, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Cover and interior pencils: José Luis Garcia-Lopez. Inks: Frank Springer.

   When I was much younger than I am now, it was Dell Comics that published the Tarzan comic books, and I devoured them from cover to cover. (And if memory serves me correctly, it was Lex Barker whose photo was on most of them.) I don’t remember reading them by the time Gold Key took over from Dell, but I do remember buying the first issue that DC did, which was in April 1972. DC kept the numbering sequence going, beginning with #207.

   This issue, #254, was part of a seven-issue sequence in which Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel Tarzan the Untamed (McClurg, 1920) was adapted to comic book form. The novel, one I don’t remember ever reading, was somewhat controversial in that Germans were the evil (dastardly) villains in the story, and ERB’s popularity dropped drastically in that country.

   That Tarzan believes Jane is dead, having been killed by German mercenaries, is the principal if not overriding factor in the tale. Obviously issue jumps right into the story, with Tarzan tied at the stake, alongside British aviator Lt. Harold Percy Smith-Oldwick, about to be burned and eaten by a tribe of cannibals. To their rescue, however, comes Fraulein Bertha Kritcher and a band of Great Apes, into whose custody Tarzan had recently placed her.

   This in spite of the fact that Tarzan hated all Germans, whom as mentioned above, Tarzan blamed for the death of his wife. Now if you have read Tarzan the Untamed, you will know this follows the novel very closely, perhaps only exaggerating a little by portraying Bertha as a blonde goddess wearing only the bare minimum of torn and ragged clothing.

   After finishing this particular installment of the story (if I have rest of the sequence, I do not know), I felt it was well done, and I wanted to read more, but the way it was told was disappointing. After the dramatic rescue in the first few pages, the rest of the issue was told in three separate flashbacks: how Tarzan ended up tied at the stake, how the British flyer’s plane went down and he was captured, and how Bertha became friends enough with the Great Apes to have them come to Tarzan’s rescue with her.

   I’d have to read the whole sequence in order to quibble any more about this than this. Adapting a long complicated novel and fitting it into seven 17-pages installments can’t be the easiest thing in the world to do, and if the writers felt that flashbacks were the only way to facilitate it, then no more grumpiness from me.


H. P. LOVECRAFT’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” Short story. Adapted in graphic format Lovecraft in Full Color #2. Adventure Comics [an imprint of Malibu Comics], March 1992. Writer: Steven Philip Jones. Pencils & inks: Octavio Cariello. Reprinted in H.P. Lovecraft’s Worlds – Volume One (Caliber Comics, paperback, June 2019).

   â€œBeyond the Wall of Sleep” is one of H. P. Lovecraft’s earliest stories, written in Spring 1919 and first published in the amateur publication Pine Cones in October 1919. It has been reprinted many times since and is probably still in print today, over a hundred years later.

   In this particular comic, it’s been updated to what was present day at the time (1992), and while it’s told in a somewhat disjointed form, the story is still very much recognizable from the one Lovecraft first created. A university researcher is trying to find ways to read the minds of others, and in what may be a breakthrough, connects with a being somewhere in the cosmos through the mind of crazed killer named Joe Slaader, a denizen of the deep Catskill hills, a man suffering from dementia who likely never been more than five miles from where he was born.

   Slaader is dying, but has a history of visions and delusions, and somehow the researcher has tapped into that. And at least for the short time before Slaader dies, the researcher finds himself “not a stranger in this Elysian realm,” but looking out upon Earth from somewhere near the star Algol. Slaader is dead, but his life of torment on this world is over.

   The story is short, the adaptation is clunky and difficult to follow, but there’s a magic to it that somehow neither the telling nor the sketchy artwork can hide. It may, paradoxically, add to it.


   Other Lovecraft stories adapted in this series:

1. “The Lurking Fear.”
2. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.”
3. “The Tomb.”
4. “The Alchemist.”

AFTERLIFT: Chapter One “There Are Rules.” ComiXology (an Amazon company), October 2019. Writer: Chip Zdarsky. Artist: Jason Loo. Colorist: Paris Alleyne. Available only on Kindle.

   A young Chinese-American girl named Janice Chen makes her living driving for Cabit, whenever she’s not driving for Lyft or Drivepal. Her parents, especially her mother, do not approve, but she has a technique that often works when a fare starts to get a little too friendly. She stops the car, says it looks like construction up ahead, asks to check on the passenger’s iPhone, clicks on five stars, and drops him off.

   Street smart, that she is, but her very next passenger is one she has no way of being prepared for. It’s a man who is escorting a young girl, but not just any young girl. She is dead, and commandeering Janice’s car, the man is taking her to her afterlife.

   This is but the first of a five-issue limited series, and it ends with a horde of demons chasing the car. Where the story goes from here, I have no idea, but the setup is certainly a doozy.

   The art is terrific, maybe even better than the story I’ve read so far, bright and extremely colorful. On the other hand, I can’t believe that this is the future of comic books. On my Kindle the lettering in the word balloons is so small that I have to keep zooming in and out, first to read the dialogue, and out again to see the larger picture.

   Then again, I am Old — I have been reading comic books for almost 75 years — and I need cataract surgery. Printing comics has to be expensive, and maybe eliminating a printed version will catch on. With this particular comic, I am impressed with the final product, the way it looks, if not how it feels, but… Perhaps your guess is better than mine.

“The Evil Eye of Count Ducrie!” Appeared as the first story in KEN SHANNON #1. Quality Comics, October 1951. Bi-monthly. Art unsigned but generally known to be by Reed Crandall. [Story by Joe Millard. See comment #1.]

   Hardboiled (and somewhat lantern-jawed) private eye Ken Shannon’s first appearance was not in this, the first issue of his own comic, but rather in issue 103 of Police Comics (December 1950). That’s when both Plastic Man and The Spirit were dropped, and a new lineup of non-superhero crime-stoppers were introduced. Evidently he was popular enough there that the folks at Quality gave him his own title, all the while continuing on in Police Comics.

   His assistant (and quite possibly a very close girl friend) was the fiery red-haired Dee Dee Dawson, and as “The Evil Eye of Count Ducrie!” the first story in this issue begins, she and Shannon stop a young girl from jumping off a bridge. It seems as though she believes her life is cursed. All of her recent boyfriends have died in strange and unusual ways.

   Taking the true blame, however, is her current suitor, the much older and quite evil-looking Count Ducrie, who threatens Shannon with death when he tries to interfere, and he very nearly succeeds. If this sounds screwy, that’s because it is,and yet, in spite of anything I expected, this is a fair play mystery, or at least it makes a good effort to try to be.

   Two more Shannon stories, “The Playful Pickpocket” and “The Carrier Pigeon Case!,” appear later in this issue. Both are seven pages long, as compared to ten for the lead story. All three of the Shannon stories are filled with action and fisticuffs, but they’re surprisingly heavy on dialogue as well. You do have to read them!

   Sandwiched in between the first and second Shannon story is a five page untitled adventure of Angles O’Day, another private eye whose cases were decidedly on the humorous side. His stories, all backups in Shannon’s comic books, were drawn by Jack Cole, creator of Plastic Man of superhero fame, and who later became quite well known as a cartoonist for Playboy magazine.

FRITZ LEIBER “Lean Times in Lankhmar.” Published in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Book Four. Epic (Marvel) Comics, 1991. Adaptation & script: Howard Chaykin. Pencils & inks: Mike Mignola & Al Williamson. Also in this same issue: “When the Sea King’s Away.” Note: “Lean Times in Lankhmar” was first published in Fantastic SF, November 1959. Reprinted many times.

   Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are a pair of adventurous rogues living day by day if not moment by moment in the swords and sorcery setting of the city of Lankhmar on the world of Nehwon, just west of the Great Salt Marsh and east of the River Hlal. Fafhrd is a tall powerful barbarian, while the Gray Mouser is a small hotheaded thief extraordinarily good at swordsmanship.

   Their first story, “Two Sought Adventure”, appeared in the pulp magazine Unknown in August 1939, but the story of how they first met was “Ill Met in Lankhmar,” did not appear until the April 1970 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

   They usually team up well, but at the beginning of this story they have split up, perhaps arguing over the spelling of Fafhrd’s name. (I have trouble, too.) Fafhrd becomes an acolyte of Bwadres, the sole priest of Issek of the Jug, while the Gray Mouser goes to work for a local racketeer named Pulg, who offers protection to “priests of all godlets seeking to become gods — on pain of unpleasant, disturbing, and revolting things happening at future services of the defaulting godlet.”

   And of course in the course of their new occupations, the two heroes’ paths are about to cross. Many consider this story to be one of the funniest sword and sorcery stories ever, and you can count me as being one of them.

   I enjoyed the comic book version, and I do recommend it to you. The structure and setting of the stories, as well as the flashing charisma of the heroes themselves, are perfect for adaptation to graphic novel format, but I kept wondering whether I’d have enjoyed it as much if I didn’t already know the story itself ahead of time.

   The art is fine, but there was a day, back into the 1960s, where to get the story told, the captions and word balloons took almost all the space in the pages of the comic books of the day. No more. The art is now supposed to tell a lot more of the story, but it takes a lot of coordination between writer and artist to make it so. It may very well be the best that could have been done, but I don’t think it happened here. There were several times when if I hadn’t know what was supposed to be happening, I’d have had no clue.

   Or maybe I’m an old dog struggling with new tricks.

STAR TREK: Harlan Ellison’s THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER – The Original Teleplay #1 . IDW Publishing, first of a five issue mini-series, August 2014; later collected into book form. Based on Harlan Ellison’s original teleplay, adapted by Scott Tipton and David Tipton. Artwork by J. K. Woodward.

   There’s better than even odds that every Star Trek fan reading this already knows the story behind the scenes of what was the final episode of the first season. Ellison’s original version of the teleplay won the annual Writers Guild of America Award for “Best Episodic Drama on Television.” The version that was shown was substantially different from Ellison’s original story in many ways, but it was still a sensation when shown and in fact was later awarded the Hugo Award in 1968 for the “Best Dramatic Presentation.”

   A loud and public falling out between Harlan Ellison and Gene Roddenberry ensued and lasted for many years. Ellison was not a man who took slights — real or perceived — lightly, to put it mildly.

   Unfortunately I have only the first issue of the comic book mini-series. I will either have to track down the other four or buy the complete collected version in either hardcover or paperback. The people at IDW worked closely with Ellison, and I’m impressed with the end result, the little of it that I have in hand.

   The story has to to with a majestic city on an isolated planet on the rim of the galaxy, a place where time and space converge. A portal exists there that can take those brave or desperate enough into Earth’s past. The 1920s, in fact, and in order to undo a change in the timeline, Kirk, Spock and crew must go back and make things right again. This, they discover, is not so easy to do.

   The artwork is far better than average, verging at time to nothing short of spectacular, and it’s no wonder the folks at NBC said, no, we can’t do that on the budget we have. The likenesses of the main characters, while not as consistent as I’d like, are very very close and always recognizable. The people behind the project had a good time working on it, I’m sure, and it shows.

AMAZING FANTASY #4. Marvel Comics, November 2004. Story: Fiona Avery. Pencils: Roger Cruz. Inker: Victor Olazaba. Cover: Mark Brooks. Creative Consultant: J. Michael Straczunski.

   First of all, this is not your grandfather’s Amazing Fantasy. You know, the one of which if you owned a dozen mint copies of #15, you’d be a millionaire right now, and that’s no joke.

   Issue #15, in case you don’t know, which featured the first appearance ever of The Amazing Spider-Man (cover dated December 1961), was also the last issue of that particular run. This brand new superhero took the world by storm, and he was given his own title almost immediately thereafter. The rest is history.

   There was a revival of sorts between December 1995 to March 1996, when Amazing Fantasy #16-18 were published, and in which some gaps in the Spider-Man story line were retroactively filled in. Another run then began in August 2004, starting over with new numbering, the first six issues of which introduce the character Anya Coroazon, a ninth grade Latina girl who in issue #4 is just beginning to come to grips with her newly developing superpowers.

   Taking a new working alias of Araña, the character was successful enough to have a 12 issue run of her own title. Some time after that, she decided to be called Spider-Girl. I’m sorry to be fuzzy on the details. I have a lot of catching up of my own to do.

   Issue #4 is part of a six-issue sequence, but even not having read the first three, I was able to follow the story well enough to enjoy this one. To sum it up, though, she’s still in the process of learning what is happening to her — which side she’s on (The Spider Society) and who the bad guys are (The Sisterhood of the Wasp). Growing a protective metal shield on her arm during a girls’ athletic event, perhaps lacrosse, is just part of the process.

BATMAN “The Jungle Cat-Queen.” Story: Edmond Hamilton (uncredited). Artwork: Dick Sprang & Charles Paris. First published in Detective Comics #211, 1954. [Also in this issue: Roy Raymond: “Menace from Outer Space!” // Captain Compass: “The World’s Deadliest Cargo!” // Mysto: “The Forbidden Trick!”] Reprinted in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, edited by Mike Gold (uncredited), DC Comics, trade paperback, 1988.

   Batman and Robin’s adversary in this story is Catwoman, a/k/a Selina Kyle, a costumed burglar who has had a special quasi-romantic relationship with Batman for many years over many different identities, first appearing in Batman #1. As the “Jungle Cat-Queen,” she and her cat plane are followed soon after her latest robbery by Batman and Robin in their Batplane to her hideaway on an almost isolated jungle island somewhere in the tropics.

   The island is not quite abandoned, however. A pair of thuggish men are operating what they call a jewel mine there, and they may (or may not) somehow be in cahoots with Catwoman.

   In 1954 comic books were far more talkier than they are now, as I hope one of the images added to this review will show. You could, in fact, learn to read from comic books, and I speak from experience.

   The ambivalent relationship between Batman and Catwoman is fully demonstrated in this story. When Batman is sent over a waterfall and presumably to his death, it is Catwoman who makes sure he has on him a silken cord and his emergency knife blade.

   Unfortunately this was the final appearance of Catwoman for many years. Apparently the Comic Code came into effect soon after this issue came out, and portrayals of female criminals were somehow prohibited. Her next appearance didn’t happen until some twelve years later.

   The story itself is kind of silly, but back in 1954, I wouldn’t have minded a bit. And to tell you the truth, I didn’t mind earlier today, either.

SPIDER-WOMAN #3. Marvel Comics, June 1978. Writer: Marv Wolfman. Pencils: Carmine Infantino. Inker: Tony DeZugina. Cover: Not credited. Reprinted in Essential Spider-Woman #1 (Marvel, 2005)

   As I understand the story, Marvel Comics’ Spider-Woman came into existence for one reason: to make sure no other comic book company would come along and steal the name. Her first appearance was in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977). This one shot appearance was successful enough — perhaps surprisingly so — that they gave her her own magazine, the first issue of which was in April 1978. There were 50 issues in all.

   At this stage of her existence — there have been several other Marvel characters also named Spider-Woman — she was named Jessica Drew, and her superhuman powers came from “…her mother being struck with a beam of radiation containing the DNA of several different types of spiders while she was in-utero.” [Quote from her Wikipedia page.]

   Not having issues #1 and 2 handy when I read #3, I did not know any of this, but did it matter? Not all that much. She seems to be wandering around trying to find herself in this one, accompanied by a Merlin-like sorcerer who shows her the grave of her father, who was mysteriously killed several months before.

   Trying to hunt to down the killer, Jessica’s path crosses that of a super-villain who calls himself Brother Grimm, who first appears at a theater where the play being performed is Hansel and Gretel. Things get suitably complicated from there, including some foreshadowing that there may be more than the one villain called Brother Grimm.

   The story doesn’t stop with just this one issue, in other words, and if I had the next one, I’d want to read it right away. Marv Wolfman does a good job melding at least two, maybe three, story lines together. I’ve always thought that Carmine Infantino’s characters were too angular looking, but inker Tony DeZugina, a favorite of mine, does well in softening them up a lot.