Monday, January 15, 2018

Review- ROY THOMAS PRESENTS: THE HEAP VOL. 1



ROY THOMAS PRESENTS: THE HEAP VOL. 1 (PS Artbooks, First Printing, 2012; Hardcover)

Collects The Heap stories from Air Fighters Comics Vol. 1 #3, 9, Vol. 2 #10, Airboy Comics Vol. 3 #4, 9-12; Vol. 4 #1-12, Vol. 5 #1-4 a/k/a #3, 9, 22, 27, 32-51 (cover dates December, 1942- May, 1948)

Writers: Harry Stein, Bill Woolfolk, Patricia Highsmith, Dick Wood, and other unidentified writers

Artists: Mort Leav, Dan Barry, John Belfi, Carmine Infantino, Arthur Peddy, Bernard Sachs, Frank Bolle, Leonard Starr, Ernest Schroeder, and possibly other unidentified artists



Decades before Swamp Thing and Man-Thing came the original comic book swamp monster, The Heap. As Roy Thomas explains in one of his famous encyclopedic Archive introductions, The Heap itself was possibly influenced by Theodore Sturgeon's 1940 short story from the pulps called It. Golden Age comic books liberally borrowed ideas from pulps and literature, so it's not much of a stretch to assume that the concept was lifted, either intentionally or subconsciously.



The origin of the character come from the Sky Wolf strip in Air Fighters Comics, where a World War I German fighter ace, Baron Emmelmann is shot down over a Polish swamp. Due to the Baron's immense will to live, he somehow merges with the vegetation, drawing nourishment from the oxygen as a plant would. As the decades pass this shambling mockery of life begins feeding on sheep and cows. He/it ambles into the middle of a storyline where Sky Wolf, the World War II fighter pilot, shoots down Nazi pilot Von Tundra. In a bizarre twist, The Heap recognizes the Germans and becomes fond of anything with German markings.



The character goes through a few incarnations before settling on his plant-like appearance, which was completely ripped off for Marvel's Man-Thing character. It is his fifth appearance where he gets spun off into his own strip. Here he meets a boy named Rickie Wood who makes a model plane of a German fighter. The Heap sees the markings and befriends the boy because of this. Like Swamp Thing and Man-Thing after him, The Heap is a semi-mindless creature. I found the character's fascination with German things to be curious, seeing as how it was being published during World War II.



The Heap follows Rickie on a series of misadventures, often saving the day in spite of himself due to his fascination with Rickie's remote controlled model German airplane. The scenarios get more ridiculous and less plausible with each passing issue. They remain a fun read but it gets to be groan inducing at times. This is easy for me to say here 70 years later. Audiences are more sophisticated today, and this comic easily stands up to anything published at the time. Indeed, this is a rather bizarre character for the era, predating Horror comics by a fair clip.



The strip then banks left, where we see Ceres and Mars have a wager whether or not The Heap is a creature of peace or of war. I sat there scratching my head wondering why they went this route, but to be honest with you this is when the series started getting even more interesting. The artwork also became more sophisticated, with the team of Frank Bolle and Leonard Starr turning in beautiful work.



The first four stories were a tough read. When The Heap became fascinated with Rickie Wood the tone changed and The Heap went on different kinds of adventures. The third shift is when things really kicked into high gear. The Heap is a great read, and the entire series has been collected across three volumes. I am looking forward to reading them.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.5 out of 5.



The OCD zone- This is the part where I go into tactile sensations of physical media. Those with heart conditions, high blood pressure, or women who are pregnant should exit my blog at their earliest convenience, as their safety cannot be guaranteed.

I enjoy huffing these Chinese made books. PS Artbooks smell the best. Whenever I crack one open I sit there and snort it...Oh yeah, that's the stuff.

This book has the ever delectable sweet, sweet toxic Chinese printing press smell, likely the result of paper sourced from virgin Amazon rainforests and ink which is a concoction of lead paint chips, broken and pulped asbestos tiles, mercury from recalled thermometers, and the final magical ingredient: the blood, sweat, and tears of the children working the sweatshop printing presses. If loving these books is wrong then I don't want to be right!

Linework and Color restoration: Like any PS Artbook, the quality varies issue by issue. This looks decent for a scan and print collection.

The raw scan presentation has the benefit of the feeling of reading the original comic book. The drawback, which is a huge one subjectively speaking, is that all of the shortcomings of the primitive four color printings presses are apparent. Line bleed, off register printing, and other anomalies are all present. It's a warts and all approach. Your mileage may vary and it all boils down to your preference.

Paper stock: Bright white matte stock.

Binding: Sewn binding.

Hardback cover notes: Matte casewrap with spot varnish. No dustjacket. Images printed directly onto the casewrap. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Review- AVENGERS: THE LEGACY OF THANOS



AVENGERS: THE LEGACY OF THANOS (Marvel, First Printing, 2014; Softcover)

Collects Avengers #255-261, Avengers Annual #14, and Fantastic Four Annual #19 (cover dates May- November, 1985)

Writers: Roger Stern and John Byrne

Artists: John Buscema, John Byrne, Glynis Oliver, Tom Palmer, Kyle Baker, and Joe Sinnott



Oh man! This is where it got real for me. While I discovered The Avengers via my older brother's comics with #187 and picked up select issues as far back as #196, #258 was when I became a monthly buyer. This issue was a crossover with Amazing Spider-Man #270, that issue being the second part of an epic battle with Firelord. I turned 12 that summer, and the cliffhanger of ASM 269 and 270 was just too much for me. Now we had to pick up an Avengers issue too? Cynical 44 year old me hates crossovers, and yet small crossovers like this helped hook young me in an organic way. My son is 11 and he is dabbling in comics and I see various series sucking him in in the same way. God help the boy. I caution him against the crossover trick, and yet here he is buying umpteen DC Metal crossover issues, but I digress.



#259 was my introduction to the Skrulls and also served as my introduction to The Avengers as a galactic powerhouse. Unbeknownst to 12 year old me was the fact that this arc was a nod to early '70s Avengers Kree-Skrull War. There was no Internet to look this stuff up on in 1985, and we were better off in some ways. Comics existed in the now and the now only. There were no trades of vintage material kept in print. No movies or video games with these characters. Whatever version of the characters that were on the spinner rack at 7-11 were the only ones that mattered. I think that there is something to be said for that.



As much as I grumble about crossovers, #260 and 261 were both Secret Wars II crossover issues and I loved them. Little did 12 year old me realize that I was helping show the industry that crossovers and endless tie-in issues work. They would soon become the status quo before almost killing off everything. Over the past decade Marvel began pumping them out one after another, and here we are on the cusp of yet another bubble burst. Those who don't learn from history and all that.



The summer Annual crossover with the Fantastic Four remains a fond childhood memory. I must have read those two comics a dozen times each when they were released in August of 1985. 

Roger Stern is Avengers royalty and can do no wrong. He, along with Roy Thomas, Steve Engelhart, and Kurt Busiek have written the finest comics to bear the title Earth's Mightiest Heroes. This is top shelf stuff that should be in every library in the country, public and private.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.

The OCD zone- This is the part where I go into tactile sensations of physical media. Those with heart conditions, high blood pressure, or women who are pregnant should exit my blog at their earliest convenience, as their safety cannot be guaranteed.

Linework and Color restoration: Everything looks good. Linework and color palette are faithful to the original comics. Books like this pose a question. As good as this looks, will the inevitable Marvel Masterworks really look any better? I'll let you know when I buy them whenever they are released. Why, god, why?

Paper stock: Matte coated stock of sufficient thickness and weight. This is the same stock found in the softcover Marvel Masterworks and Epic line books. It's my favorite paper stock used in collected editions today.

Binding: Perfect bound trade paperback.


Cardstock cover notes: Laminated cardstock cover.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Review- WOLVERINE- OLD MAN LOGAN VOL. 5: PAST LIVES



WOLVERINE- OLD MAN LOGAN VOL. 5: PAST LIVES (Marvel, First Printing, 2017; Softcover)

Collects Old Man Logan #19-24 (cover dates May- July, 2017)

Writer: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Filipe Andrade, Andrea Sorrentino (covers), and Eric Nguyen

Colorist: Jordan Boyd and Andres Jose Mossa



Lemire seems to enjoy his time displacement and time shifts. Indeed, it has been the hallmark of his entire run on this title. Old Man Logan is a man not only out of time but of his own timeline.



This time out Old Man Logan makes a deal with Asmodeus to get back to his future to correct a mistake that he left behind. This is one of those “deals with the devil” kind of things. Logan is given an amulet which will get him from point a to b. Unfortunately for Logan, Asmodeus flings him through his entire past, where we get a sort of greatest hits of Logan's life as he has to relive battles with the Hulk and Wendigo, the Weapon X program, Madripoor, etc. The spell lasts only four days, giving this a sense of urgency.

The end of this arc is the main problem with modern day comic writers. They try to wrap up their run in such a way as to make it almost seem like the end of the series. While the Bronze Age method of leaving endless loose plotlines dangling for the new guy to wrap up before heading on their journey isn't necessarily any better, it did give the reader a true sense of continuity. One could use this book as a jumping off point for the series.



Lemire wraps up his 24 issue run with a bow. The artwork is not to my liking here at all. Your mileage may vary. I'll be interested to see what happens in Volume 6, due out this month.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 3.75 out of 5.

The OCD zone- Thin coated stock with a slight sheen.
Binding: Perfect bound trade paperback. This book is on the thin side and feels like a fat periodical.
Cardstock cover notes: Laminated cardstock.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Review- ACG COLLECTED WORKS: ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN VOL. 7



ACG COLLECTED WORKS: ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN VOL. 7 (PS Artbooks, First Printing, 2014; Hardcover)

Collects Adventures Into The Unknown #31-36 (cover dates May- October, 1952)

Writers: Unknown

Artists: Ken Bald (covers), Edvard Moritz, Art Gates, Milt Knopf, Al Camy, Al Streeter, Charlie Sultan, Lou Cameron, Rocke Mastroserio, Pete Riss, Frank Simienski, Moe Marcus, Harry Lazarus, Lin Streeter, S. Cooper, Tom Hickey, King Ward, Paul Cooper, Paul Gattuso, Charles Nicholas, Leo Morey, Emil Gershwin, George Klein, Gus Ricca, Robert S. Pious, and other unidentified artists



I love '50s Pre-Code Horror comics. This title is fondly remembered and widely considered one of the better non-EC titles. I think that the main reason for this is that it was the first Horror anthology title and it ran for 174 issues. This particular volume has a noticeable dip in quality compared to earlier volumes. There are any number of other Horror comics of the day that crush the comics slapped between these two covers.



That's not to say that these weren't enjoyable. I'm just saying that these were not the most illustrious examples of 1950s Pre-Code Horror comics. The artwork is solid, done by the usual workhorses and journeymen of the day. It's the writing that sinks some of these stories. It's easy to sit here with 2017 eyes and sophistication and critique 65 year old comic books, but I am referring to the quality within the context of the era when compared to other then-contemporary comics.

Oh man! It's like looking into a mirror. 

One of the reasons that these stories would fall flat for readers today is that people are not as superstitious as they once were. While I enjoy stories about cursed masks from some unknown African tribe, werewolves, ghost ships, pacts with the devil, jungle curses, vampires, serpent gods, possessed paintings, ghosts, zombies, frozen cavemen who come back to life, witches, ghosts, magic, cursed jewels, and split personalities, many of these topics are now boring to modern day sensibilities. People are too smart to enjoy a good ghost story. More fool them.



Issue 36 is the best issue in the book. I am hoping that this is indicative of an uptick in quality, as I have Vols. 8-12 in my backlog waiting to be read someday.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The OCD zone-PS Artbooks reprint public domain material in a high quality hardcover format. While there are several companies that reprint public domain material via Amazon's CreateSpace print on demand imprint, none of them are as nicely made as these books.
Linework and Color restoration: Like any PS Artbook, the quality varies issue by issue. Some are perfectly acceptable raw scans. Others are blurry, muddy messes sourced from lower resolution scans.
The raw scan presentation has the benefit of the feeling of reading the original comic book. The drawback, which is a huge one subjectively speaking, is that all of the shortcomings of the primitive four color printings presses are apparent. Line bleed, off register printing, and other anomalies are all present. It's a warts and all approach.
This material will likely never be given a full blown Marvel Masterworks level restoration, so this is your only chance to get it in color in hardcover.

Anyone who claims that the four color printing press and "Ben Day" dots were artistic choices are delusional. There is nothing romantic about off register printing.

Paper stock: Bright white matte stock.
Binding: Sewn binding.
Hardback cover notes: Matte casewrap with spot varnish. No dustjacket. Images printed directly onto the casewrap. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review- WOLVERINE- OLD MAN LOGAN VOL. 4: OLD MONSTERS



WOLVERINE- OLD MAN LOGAN VOL. 4: OLD MONSTERS (Marvel, First Printing, 2017; Softcover)

Collects Old Man Logan #14-18 (cover dates January- April, 2017)

Writer: Jeff Lemire

Artists: Felipe Andrade (#14, 15) and Andrea Sorrentino

Colorist: Jordie Bellaire (#14, 15) and Marcelo Maiolo



What happened? Everything was moving along just fine until now. Issues 14 and 15 were abysmal dreck. The new Howling Commandos are a pathetic retread of DC's Creature Commandos. Felipe Andrade's artwork in this two issue arc left me cold.

It was more than the art that soured me on those two issues. Lemire's writing seems like it went off of the track there too. Jubille and vampires? Come on, man. It felt like Lemire had a dartboard of random plotlines and then had to patch them all together.

Fortunately #16 is right back on track like nothing ever happened in #14 and 15. Logan is still trying to right the wrongs of the past, only something goes wrong and he realizes that he needs to right the wrongs of a future yet to occur in his alternate future timeline. Lots of timeshifts, dreams, nightmares, and hallucinations make this a game of leapfrog for the reader, trying to leap from one lily pad to the next to keep up with what is really happening and what Old Man Logan thinks is really happening. It's honestly a lot of fun. The book ends on a note where you just know it's going to take an even bigger jump.



This can become a great risk. Jumping works so long as you firmly know where you are going. When you are merely jumping to avoid something or get away to the next point then the potential for catastrophe is great. Let's see what Lemire can pull off in Volume 5...
Junk Food For Thought rating: 3 out of 5.

The OCD zone-
Paper stock: Thin coated stock with a slight sheen.
Binding: Perfect bound trade paperback. This book is on the thin side and feels like a fat periodical.
Cardstock cover notes: Laminated cardstock.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Review- JOHN CARPENTER'S TALES FOR A HALLOWEEN NIGHT VOL. 3



JOHN CARPENTER'S TALES FOR A HALLOWEEN NIGHT VOL. 3 (Storm King, First Printing, 2017; Softcover)

Original Graphic Novel

Writers: John Carpenter, Steven Hoveke, David J. Schow, Louise Simonson, Joe Harris, Amanda Deibert, Richard P. Clark, Frank Tieri, James Ninness, Duane Swierczynski, Kealan Patrick Burke, and Sandy King

Artists: Tim Bradstreet, Jon Bogdanove, Luis Guaranga, Darick Robertson, Guy Dorian, Sal Buscema, Greg Scott, Cat Staggs, Richard P. Clark, James M. Daly III, Trevor Denham, Jaime J. Carrillo, Jan Duursema, Tom Mandrake, Sian Mandrake, and Ray Dillon

Colorists: Sian Mandrake, Richard P. Clark, Ross Campbell, Felipe Sobreiro, Cat Staggs, Trevor Denham, Kinsun Loh, and Ray Dillon

Letterer: Janice Chiang with Ben Gilbert (one story)



This is the biggest volume yet in this series, with eleven stories, a few sneak previews for Volume 4, and expanded Groundscreeper interludes. In previous volumes The Groundscreeper was one image with a text page which set the stage for the following tale. This time around it is a two page strip in between each tale, serving the same purpose. This has to be Jon Bogdanove's best artwork. I fondly remember his work on Power Pack and Superman, but here he is at his peak.



Like any Horror anthology, you get a mixed bag of topics with various styles of art. The first story, The Awakening, is written by John Carpenter with Luis Guaranga's Ghastly Graham Ingels inspired art. It deals with two of Carpenter's pet themes: religion and demonic possession. Let's face it, when it comes to Horror those two themes never run out of steam because it's the foundation of it all. Good versus evil in the truest sense.



Louise Simonson, another Power Pack alumni (I was a huge fan of the series in the '80s), turns in the Sci-Fi Horror tale Bug. Traveling to other worlds poses many risks. We could unknowingly contaminate ourselves with who knows what. Heck, it's possible that the rise in obesity and cancer is from something we brought back from the moon that we can't identify. That type of thing scares the crap out of me, and Bug is 21st century Horror done right.

Indivisible is a timely political Horror story. 2017 is a strange time to be an American, as identity politics has seemingly ripped our country apart. While I have a ton of tinfoil hat theories about Communist brainwashing using social media, Indivisible is not that far fetched a story. The Warren Magazines delved into timely political tales in the early '70s and it will be interesting to see how this story reads in a few decades. If we're still here to read comic books and haven't blown up the whole planet, that is.

The Captive (written by Amanda Deibert with art by Cat Staggs) is brilliant. This is another 21st century Horror concept, a cautionary tale about the horrors of online dating. There are plenty of losers to meet in real life, folks.



36 Baron Street treads well covered ground, but I'll be damned if those kinds of haunted house stories don't get me every time. I love them and can never get enough of them. EC had a ton of them, and they've been covered by every horror anthology under the sun, but they always work so why not do them?

Visitation Rights is the one that really got me, though. I went through a brutal custody battle during my divorce a year ago, so this piqued my interest from the word go. While the story wasn't as horrifying as the reality of fighting Michigan's draconian family court system with it's rich history of systemic discrimination and overt gender bias against men, it is pretty messed up stuff. I absolutely love Trevor Denham's art and colors. The text captions in lieu of word balloons is reminiscent of EC's short lived Picto-Fiction format. I don't give anything away in terms of plot twists or reveals in my reviews, but this one the real deal, a visceral piece of art.



Everlasting Peace is another haunted house type ghost story that works. This volume is easily the best one in the series yet, and I am really looking forward to Volume 4. Get off of the fence and get into this series.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.75 out of 5.

The OCD zone- Nothing unusual to report.
Paper stock: Super thick glossy coated stock.
Binding: Perfect bound trade paperback. The binding is a little tight but loosens as you read it.
Cardstock cover notes: Matte finish on thick cardstock with spot varnish and an embossed logo, a nice touch. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review- PRE-CODE CLASSICS: THIS MAGAZINE IS HAUNTED VOL. 1



PRE-CODE CLASSICS: THIS MAGAZINE IS HAUNTED VOL. 1 (PS Artbooks, First Printing, May, 2016; Hardcover)

Collects This Magazine Is Haunted #1-7 (cover dates October, 1951- October, 1952)

Writers: Al Schutzer, John Martin, Daniel Sheldon, Earl Hammer, Jr., Eando Binder, Richard Kraus, and other unidentified writers

Artists: Sheldon Moldoff, George Evans, Bernard Baily, Bob Powell, Edd Ashe, Myron Fass, Ed Waldman, Leonard Frank, “Jokerface” (unidentified), and other unidentified artists



I adore 1950s Pre-Code Horror comic books. While EC remain the gold standard for the era, this title, published by Fawcett, gave EC a run for their money. While the writing is better than average for the genre and the time it falls just a pinch short of EC level quality.



The topics of these stories run the gamut of what was typically included in these types of series at the time. There are no real surprises here. It's not the predictable twist ending that offers the payoff here, it is the execution and the craft of these stories that kept me turning the pages so quickly.



The artwork, on the other hand, is where this title truly shines. Take a gander at the list of talent above. There are many Golden Age notables that worked on this series. And while some of these stories have been cherry-picked by other publishers in various compilation type books, it is great to have the complete issues reprinted.

Artwork by the godlike George Evans.

#5's The Slithering Horror Of Skontong Swamp! features artwork by future EC legend George Evans. Evans employs a cinematic camera angle style to his panel composition, with the results being nothing short of incredible. Issue 6's Showcase For Horror! is another brilliant story, reading like an episode of The Twilight Zone. There weren't any bad stories in the bunch, these two were just the standouts for me.



This was an absolute blast to read in the weeks leading up to Halloween. I'll have to read the rest of this series sooner than later. Maybe next Hallowe'en I'll read Volume 2.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The OCD zone- PS Artbooks reprint public domain material in a high quality hardcover format. While there are several companies that reprint public domain material via Amazon's CreateSpace print on demand imprint, none of them are as nicely made as these books.
Linework and Color restoration: Like any PS Artbook, the quality varies issue by issue. Some, like issue 3, are perfectly acceptable raw scans. Others, like issue #6, are blurry, muddy messes sourced from lower resolution scans.
The raw scan presentation has the benefit of the feeling of reading the original comic book. The drawback, which is a huge one subjectively speaking, is that all of the shortcomings of the primitive four color printings presses are apparent. Line bleed, off register printing, and other anomalies are all present. It's a warts and all approach.
This material will likely never be given a full blown Marvel Masterworks level restoration, so this is your only chance to get it in color in hardcover.
Paper stock: This book was released in the era when PS took the EC Annual format and put it into a hardcover. Glossy paper covers with interior paper that replicates the feeling of pulp paper, albeit much thicker. The paper is not as thick as the matte paper that Dark Horse was using in their Archives. It's a matte off white stock that I like a lot.
Binding: Sewn binding.
Hardback cover notes: Matte casewrap with spot varnish. No dustjacket. Images printed directly onto the casewrap.