Sunday, February 26, 2012

Showcase #83: Here Comes Bernie

The second issue of the Nightmaster Showcase trial featured the art of Bernie Wrightson, who had just started his comic book career a month or so earlier.  Wrightson's style was obviously heavily influenced by Frank Frazetta, which made him particularly suited for the genre. Frazetta's magnificent illustrations had covered the recent Conan series of books published by Lancer/Ace.

 The story takes up where the previous one left off.  Having learned the passwords from the Ice Witch, Nightmaster and his somewhat deranged guide, Boz, are trying to save Jan from the evil warlocks.  They run into a challenge from a Conan clone:
Note the unusual use of inks there; the straight lines on Nightmaster's face as compared to the cross-hatching on the barbarian's.  This is not original with Wrightson by any means, but it was a style associated with more mature and sophisticated artists, like Al Williamson.

Nightmaster manages to defeat the barbarian by throwing away his sword and using a little judo.  Because he refuses to take his opponent's life, the barbarian agrees to help him.  It turns out he has two additional companions for the party:
 They are sirens, whose voices have been stilled by the evil wizards and locked away in a chest.  So their goals coincide as well. Wrightson was known for drawing exceptionally beautiful women.  Probably his most famous issue had this mesmerizing cover:

They make it to the warlock stronghold, where they stop at an inn.  I guess the CCA was asleep at the switch again on the use of alcohol, as they order ale and:
There's the somewhat obligatory battle with some guards who show up:
Entering the warlock castle, they find the chest holding the voices of the two sirens.  Then they reach the roof, where a moonship is preparing to lift off:
I like the concept of a ship that sails through the air, powered by the light of the moon.  They manage to get over the gunwales before the craft escapes, and Nightmaster discovers that Jan is aboard:
They battle some enchanted warriors, who cannot be defeated, and thus they are forced back to the rails of the ship:
Very nice bit of sequential art there.  The story ends with the moonship sailing away, much to Nightmaster's frustration:
The combination of two of comics' brightest young talents certainly improved things over the previous issue.  This one is not quite perfect, but there are more than a few glimmers of potential that could have resulted in something special had the series been given the time to percolate and develop an audience.  Unfortunately, DC was under rising pressure due to the inflation of the late 1960s (in fact, this was the last 12-cent issue for Showcase) and so had no inclination to wait to see if this series would sell long-term.  Given the success that Marvel had with Conan the Barbarian only a year later, it seems quite likely that Nightmaster could have turned into a winner.

A bit of trivia here: Do you know the last series that Showcase launched into its own book?  It was Windy and Willy, which debuted one issue before Nightmaster.  Can you guess why?  Well, my guess is because DC recycled the old Many Loves of Dobie Gillis series for that comic (with only a few changes to update hairstyles and fashions), and thus it was cheaper to produce than a comic that required new stories and art.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Showcase #82: DC Beats Marvel to Sword and Sorcery

As the 1960s drew to a close, DC found that the superhero genre was waning and began casting about for something to replace it. In fact, the last superhero comic launched by DC's Showcase title was the Hawk and the Dove in #75.

The timing for a sword and sorcery feature was excellent.  JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, initially published in 1954-55, had grown in popularity and become phenomenally successful in the late 1960s.  In addition, the Conan tales of Robert E. Howard had been reprinted by Lancer/Ace Books in 1966-67, to strong sales.

Better still, DC assigned a pretty good creative team to the series, with Denny O'Neill, soon to be considered one of the best young writers in comics, teamed up with accomplished penciller Jerry Grandinetti and Hall of Fame inker Dick Giordano.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for starters, O'Neill or his editor (Murray Boltinoff) decided to make the lead character a rock star:
Yes, adolescents and teens were fascinated by rock stars.  But real rock stars, with real hits, not some make-believe guitarist.  Note that the band, despite being called The Electrics, appear to be an acoustic band; that stand-up bass would not work in an electric band.  Also note that the story is told in the second person.  Although this is supposed to be more immediate, I always found it distancing.  Sorry, guys, but that is not me.

After the obligatory fight with some audience members who appear to be fraternity fascists (very common in the hippie Greenwich Village scene where the story opens), Jim Rook and his girlfriend Janet decide to check out the new restaurant:
And before you can say "John Carter" they are transported to another world, another dimension.

Now that part, I don't mind at all.  It doesn't fit with the Lord of the Rings or Conan, both of which featured characters living in their normal reality, but it does give us a lead character (like Carter) who is as baffled with this new world as we are.
As you can see, Grandinetti just doesn't have the style for the fantasy genre, unlike, for example, Joe Kubert, who did the terrific cover for this issue.

Jim meets a gnome king who explains that he has been summoned to this world because he is a descendent of a warrior from that world known as "Nacht" (German for night).  Nacht and another warrior named Brom had been given weapons of incredible power by some earlier king.  But Brom betrayed the king and it was only through Nacht's great courage that an attempted coup d'etat by him and Farben the Wizard was foiled.  However, Farben had banished Nacht to Earth and the battle between the Wizards and the gnomes (who had originally been human-like, but shriveled under the magical onslaught) had raged ever since.  Only recently had the gnomes been able to open up the dimensional portal and bring Jim into their world.  Can he save them from the final battle?

Well, despite insisting that he doesn't know swordplay, he picks up the weapon of power and before you know it, he's smiting like the dickens:

But when the fight is over, he wants to return to his own world, with his fiancee.
So now he must fight his way to the fair maiden, which requires an initial stop at the Ice Witch, who has the password.  He, and his mildly insane guide, Boz, try to make it to the top of her castle:
And once there, they surprisingly find Jan:
As you can probably guess, Boz has the right read on Jan; she's the Ice Witch herself.  They obtain the password, and it's on to the Wizards' stronghold to free Jim's girlfriend.  To be continued....

Comments:  There are some elements that work here, and some that fail.  Although I am an admirer of Grandinetti's artwork on the war comics, here he flounders.  Ah, but in the next issue, guess who took up the reins? But that, my friends, is where this post leaves off, and the next one will begin.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Silver Age Cover Proofs for Sale Online!

Some of Julius Schwartz's Silver Age cover proofs are available for sale at this site.

These one-of-a-kind Printer’s Proof’s were originally sent to Schwartz for his final approval, before their commercial print run. The covers feature artwork from such icons as Nick Cardy, Murphy Anderson, Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino, Mike Kaluta and many, many more!

When The Hero Initiative approached Tate about the idea of showcasing this collection in our upstairs gallery space, Bear and Bird, he jumped at the chance to share these unusual and rare collectibles with South Florida comic book fans. “These covers are a part of DC Comics history, they are totally unique and cool,” said Tate Ottati. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to offer a really great gallery event for our customers and to also help out The Hero Initiative with their very worthwhile cause.”
All the covers in this collection will be available for sale at the price of $100 and include a unique Certificate of Authenticity.
The proceeds will go to a good cause:

The Hero Initiative is the first-ever federally chartered not-for-profit corporation dedicated strictly to helping comic book creators in need. Hero creates a financial safety net for yesterday’s creators who may need emergency medical aid, financial support for essentials of life, and an avenue back into paying work. It’s a chance for fans to give back something to the people who have given them so much enjoyment.
Since its inception, The Hero Initiative has had the good fortune to grant over $500,000 to the comic book veterans who have paved the way for those in the industry today. For more information, visit or call 626-676-6354.
 The first page of the gallery is here.  There are some pretty spectacular covers there.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Falling In Love #13

From September, 1957. Bonus points for that cover for showing both a boy and a girl about to cry. The opener is about Celia, a young woman stuck in a dreary job (apparently as a typist). She fantasizes that she's a Cinderella, and when the clock strikes midnight one evening, she decides to use her savings to buy a trip to Italy. While on a tour through the countryside, she takes her lunch in an orchard and falls asleep, missing her bus. She tries to explain to the handsome Italian farmer:
Surprise, he turns out to be an American living in Italy. They have lunch together and he suggests that she stay for awhile (at a local inn, this was 1957 after all). She agrees and they spend the summer together:
But she's saddened by the knowledge that eventually she will have to leave. Rolf doesn't seem to be serious about her:
The Cinderella thing comes up again, and she senses that the clock is nearing midnight on her summer romance. Without telling Rolf, she gets a ride in a donkey cart to the airport, and prepares to depart, her heart breaking. Then:
And so she becomes a farmer's wife in Italy.

Comments: Art by Mike Sekowsky.  The Cinderella theme is well-handled and despite the simplicity of the plot, I found the story pretty effective.

The second tale is about a young florist who worships Ted Brennan even though he simply looks at her as the gal who sells him a dozen roses to send to his latest flame:
Then she meets Dale, another old schoolmate, who's become an artist:
And although she's a little torn at leaving the florist shop, where she catches her few precious moments waiting on Ted Brennan, she agrees.  And soon:
Well, you can probably guess who his friend is.  But when he makes it clear that he doesn't remember her at all, and is just interested in her beauty, she treats him coldly:
She even begins seeing Dale in an effort to forget about Ted.  But one night:
I'm kind of amused at the fact that she never seems to realize that the only reason she "loves" Ted is because he's so handsome.  They strike me as well-suited for each other.

There is an advice column called "To You... From Carol Andrews".  Most of the letters are pretty standard dating advice but I did blink a bit at this one:
 The third story is about a blind date that goes quite well:
But she's annoyed when it takes him a couple of days to call, and later she finds out that he's dating another gal too.  The friend that set them up originally has a pretty sensible observation:
And when she calls him up to invite him to a party that Saturday, he quite honestly admits that he already has a date.  Well, why not bring her to my party?  The more the merrier!  And of course, to hide her misery when he does show up with the blonde in tow:
Nothing says, "I'm going crazy now," like a handful of mambo records.  She dances with everybody in sight but Lowell and at the end of the night, the other girlfriend bares her claws:
But it turns out that's just what it took to get him to make up his mind.  He's not going to play the field any longer if it means that she can as well.

 The cover story winds up the book.  Vinnie (a girl) and Don have known each other since childhood.  But Vinnie meets a handsome stranger at the fair one day and they win a prize for dancing.  Second night of the fair and they win again.  And Don's in trouble:
But on the third night, she meets him again, and this time:
Ouch!  And to make matters worse, she seems to be losing Don as well:
So she assures Don that she loves only him by throwing away the prizes she had won dancing with the other guy.

Comments: Meh.  At least she ends up with the right guy.

Happy Valentine's Day everybody!

Monday, February 06, 2012

Alliterative and Amusing Attributions

For most of the Silver Age, DC did not include credits for their stories (although it was not uncommon for artists to sign their work). Indeed, probably the most common credit given was fictitious; the one that identified most Batman stories as being drawn by Bob Kane.

Marvel was different. From the very beginning, they included some credits for their stories. From Fantastic Four #1:
At first, as you can see, the credits were rudimentary. Here's something of interest, though, from Amazing Spiderman #1:
Even when DC did go to more commonly including credits later in the Silver Age, back then they never (to my knowledge) gave attribution for lettering. Still, the credits were more or less haphazard at that point at Marvel. For example, ASM #4 does not including lettering credit, and up to and including #9 the credits were pretty simple. In ASM #10, things changed:
This was the beginning of Stan's alliterative phase, which would continue for the rest of the Silver Age (and be continued by later editors at Marvel).  That same month, Fantastic Four #24's credits included another look at the future:
The following issue, Stan put both alliteration and braggadocio together:
But there was still one more element to be added: Humor.  That started to be added with #29:
Stan apparently (I assume he came up with the idea for these credits) delighted in tweaking his letterers; for the next few years this became the template.  Greatness was always implied for the script, pencils and inking; mere competence (or worse) was ascribed to putting the words on the paper.

 Although these amusing credits became a significant part of the difference between Marvel and DC, they did not last anywhere near as long as I remembered.  Indeed, by late 1966, Stan pretty much reverted to a more basic style:

After that the humorous and alliterative credits became more infrequent.  Indeed, Stan often saved that for the Bullpen Bulletin or the letters page.  I suspect that his workload by that point was getting too big; it was around this time that he turned the scriptwriting chores for the Avengers over to Rascally Roy Thomas.

The appeal of these credits was strong.  It gave readers the feeling that they were in for a fun time.  True, the self-promotion could get overbearing at times, but this was also the era where Mohamed Ali amused us all by proclaiming his greatness at the top of his lungs, rather than engage in the more common false modesty of most athletes before and after.