Thursday, June 17, 2010

Back in the Day


Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, written by Roy Thomas, Steve Engelhart, Tony Isabella and Gardner Fox; illustrated by Ross Andru, Rich Buckler, Frank Springer, Tom Palmer and Frank Giacoia (1972-72; reprinted 2010): So far as I know, this marks the first time DC has reprinted comics that were originally published as Marvel books and were not inter-company crossovers per: Superman and Spider-man, et al. That's because the rights to these Doc Savage comics have reverted to the original copyright holder, while DC is now attempting another revival of Doc Savage, in its FirstWave imprint.

Marvel made two attempts at Doc Savage comic-book success back in the 1970's, when the Bantam reprints of the original 1930's and 1940's pulp novels were a sales success and a big-budget Doc Savage movie loomed on the (1975) horizon. This standard-comic-sized, colour book was the first attempt, running eight issues that adapted four classic Savage novels. Ross Andru's art is really nice, and nicely inked by Tom Palmer, and Engelhart and Isabella do a good job of capturing the feel of the original pulps. 40 pages or so of comic book to adapt a 60,000 word novel isn't much, though -- the issues sometimes feel like 'Great Scenes from Doc Savage.' Still, these are fun in their own way, and I'd forgotten that comics great Jim Steranko did two covers for the series.

A later Marvel attempt at Doc Savage appeared in eight magazine-sized black-and-white issues that I really, really hope are in the reprint pipeline, even though I own the original issues. There, with most of the scripting by Doug Moench and a lion's share of art by Tony DeZuniga, Doc Savage got the comic book he deserved, in part because the editors wisely learned from the mistakes of Marvel's first attempt and had Moench and the other writers do original stories rather than cramped adaptations.

One of the unfortunate results of the rights to Doc Savage no longer lying with Marvel is that the two team-ups Doc did with Marvel heroes -- Spider-man and the Thing from the Fantastic Four -- will probably never be reprinted. Darn! In any case, recommended.

War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle, written by Warren Ellis, illustrated by Howard Chaykin (2009): Chaykin drawing a period-piece war book about World War One Allied aviators in the Royal Air Force's volunteer corps pretty much trumps any complaints I have about the actual story. And it's not that Ellis's revisionist story about an obscure Marvel hero called The Phantom Eagle (albeit named within the actual story only briefly, and somewhat in jest) is bad. I'd just rather have Chaykin write the story as well: his 80's work on revisionist interpretations of The Shadow and Blackhawk (DC's WWII aviator team) showcased Chaykin's writing at its snarky, complicated best.

But we do get Chaykin drawing vintage airplanes and vintage clothing, along with a blowjob scene that can only play like an homage to the (in)famous blowjob scene towards the beginning of Chaykin's Blackhawk miniseries. Other than the blowjob scene, though, the book is surprisingly light on sex, another downside: if you're going to have Chaykin draw a book, there should be some stipulation that there be 10 pages of women in various stages on undress or, barring that, snappy outfits. Along with his contemporary Walt Simonson, Chaykin is one of the few artists who makes clothing interesting, indeed, one of the artistic draws of a book. Highly recommended for the art.

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