Wednesday, April 16, 2014

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 53

The Rawhide Kid is my favorite western comics character and one of my favorite comics characters period.  Something about the short of stature (but big on courage and fighting skills) Johnny Clay spoke to the short of stature (but big on comics-reading skills) teenage Tony Isabella.  After rereading the Kid’s earliest adventures when Marvel Comics reprinted them in a pair of Marvel Masterworks and an Essential Rawhide Kid volume, I wanted to reacquire every Rawhide Kid comic, reread them and write about them in this bloggy thing of mine. This is the 53rd installment of that series.

The cover of The Rawhide Kid #68 [February 1969] is by Larry Lieber (pencils) and Sal Buscema (inks). Costumed villain The Cougar is hanging from a tree and has apparently startled the Kid into almost falling from his horse Nightwind.

“When Stalks the Cougar!” (20 pages) is written and drawn by Lieber with inks by Buscema. Sal was new to Marvel, but quickly proving to be an indispensable addition to the company. He could ink as well or better than most. He could draw dynamic figures. He could tell a story visually in the same exciting fashion. Speaking from my own experiences, scripting pages drawn by Sal was always fun and easy. He brought out the best in many writers.

The Rawhide Kid didn’t face many super-villains during this era of his adventures, but the Cougar would have been a stand-out at any time. The masked train-robber wore massive paw-like gloves which could smash through a wall. He had special soles on his boots that allowed him to scamper up walls and afforded him sure footing even on top of a speeding train. But this story was much more than a hero/villain battle and one of my favorite Rawhide Kid thrillers.
  
The story opens with the Kid trying to relax in a saloon. But he’s not likely to sit still when a saloon girl and the dude she’d been sitting with are bullied by three goons. The dude doesn’t want any trouble. The goons are all about dishing out trouble. The Kid makes short work of the goons.

The dude is Wayde Garrison, the son of J.S. Garrison, owner of the railroad line. The elder Garrison is sore disappointed by the son he considers a spineless coward and a disgrace to the family name. We get a philosophical debate between Rawhide and J.S.

KID: Toughness isn’t everything! A man needs to be compassionate - to love other folks!

J.S.: Bah! That’s woman talk! The measure of a man is in his will to win...in his uncompromising drive to overcome all odds! That’s how I built my railroad empire!

Despite the Kid being a wanted outlaw, Garrison wants to hire him to catch the Cougar and the villain’s gang. He offers to hire the finest lawyers to help prove Rawhide’s innocence. The Kid takes the job, but isn’t thrilled that Garrison wants “this worthless whelp” (Wayde) to work with Rawhide:

Nothing else has made a man of Wayde! Maybe fighting alongside the Rawhide Kid will do the trick!

Ed Dolan, the railroad security officer, isn’t thrilled with this hire. He says the Kid could be the Cougar. The Kid says the Cougar could be anyone, even Dolan. Hmm...

When Wayde goes missing for half an hour, Rawhide goes looking for him and finds him coming to. The young man says he was attacked by the Cougar. The Kid races through the cars and finds the villain in the engine car. The Cougar’s plan is to stop the train so his gang can rob it.

Rawhide and the Kid fight in the train and on top of the train, but the Kid is outmatched and, when the Cougar’s men surrounds the now-halted train, he’s likewise outnumbered. A stray bullet grazes the Kid’s scalp and takes him out of the fight.

Dolan is wounded. The Cougar and his men escape with the payroll. Rawhide and Wayde jump on their horses and go after the criminals. Wayde panics and alerts the outlaws.

Rawhide is outnumbered, but he’s on solid ground now. He clobbers the Cougar with a rock and out-shoots the rest of the gang members. Then comes the removal of the Cougar’s mask and a surprising moment for the Kid. Wayde is the Cougar.

KID: I’m plumb flabbergasted! But why? And how??

WAYDE: First, how...it was easy! Two cougar costumes - one hidden on the train, the other in the mine!

WAYDE: I was able to change identities at will! I even pretended to have been attacked by the Cougar to keep you from getting suspicious!

KID: But why? You’re rich! So money couldn’t be the motive!

WAYDE: The motive was revenge - against the tyranny of a man whom I couldn’t fight any other way!

The father and son reunion isn’t a happy one. The elder Garrison has done some self-reflection, albeit it too late to do his child any good.

J.S.: I was a fool who never looked at you close up...who never saw what was happening to you! You’ve committed crimes, but none as bad as mine! I crushed your manhood...then ridiculed you for having none!

The Rawhide Kid is still a young man and young man can make really dumb mistakes. The Kid doesn’t want his well-earned pay.

KID: The money for those lawyers is soaked in too much sadness and grief! I couldn’t accept it! All I want it to push on...to follow my own beckoning star...and forget how men can destroy their own and themselves!

Near as I can tell, “When Stalks the Cougar!” was never reprinted in the 1970s and hasn’t been reprinted since. That’s a shame.  It’s a story that deserves a new audience.

The issue’s other story is “Slap Leather, Lawman!” by Stan Lee and Don heck. Originally a four-page story when it appeared in Rawhide Kid #22 June 1961], it was cut to three pages for this reprinting.

It’s a mediocre four-page short wherein an aging sheriff has a gun fight with a rustler.  Though the much younger man draws first and hits the sheriff, the lawman doesn’t go down.  The sheriff disarms the rustler with a shot to the shoulder.

The townspeople are amazed. They all saw that the rustler’s bullet hit the sheriff first. The sheriff speaks only to his relieved wife and says: “I reckon it was only, fittin’, Marcy! I spent my whole life fightin’ for this tin badge...”

Marcy finishes her husband’s sentence: “And now it’s paid you back, dear...by saving your life!”

The sheriff holds his badge in his hand.  It has a dead-center dent where it stopped the rustler’s bullet.

Rawhide is literally a red-haired stepchild in the Marvel Universe of this period. His is the only original material western and will remain so until the 1970s.  The only other Marvel western is The Mighty Marvel Western, a double-sized title reprinting stories of Rawhide, Kid Colt and Two-Gun Kid. In about nine months, Kid Colt Outlaw resumes publication, but it, too, comes back as an entirely reprint title.

Rawhide Kid #68 does not feature the Marvel Bullpen Page. It does not mention The Mighty Marvel Western, which seems like a serious oversight to me. The only Marvel house ad is for those inflatable plastic pillows of Spider-Man and Thor...and the Marvel super-hero t-shirts we’d seen many times before.

There is the usual “Ridin’ the Trail with Rawhide” letters column. It features five letters from readers with no editorial responses to any of them.  This “no editorial response” was something Marvel tried out for several months. It was no popular with the readers. At the bottom of the letters column were the six “hallowed ranks of  Marveldom” and descriptions of each rank. As much a Marvel maniac as I was and despite that these ranks were more or less created by my dear friend Mark Evanier, I never cared for them.

I am not a rank. I am a free fan!

Going to the letters...

Kirk Robbins of Lancaster, Ohio wanted to see a modern-day Marvel character, preferably Doctor Strange, the Silver Surfer, or one of the Fantastic Four travel back in time to appear with Rawhide. He also wanted Marvel to try Civil War characters, Revolutionary War characters and characters of ancient history in its Marvel Super-Heroes title.

Willie B. Carson, a Marine serving in Viet Nam, enjoyed “Ride For Vengeance” in issue #65. If the Kid ever settles down, he wrote, it should be with Lucy Tanner from that story.

Jeffrey Avidano of Long Island, New York thought it “would be neat to team up Kid Colt, the Rawhide Kid and the Two-Gun Kid against some famous outlaws like Jesse James and Sam Bass.”

Darrell D. Wright of Hopkinton, Iowa also wanted to see Marvel do a comic about the American Revolution. He wrote, “You should have a warlock (male witch) as the hero.”

Finally, Bill Boyle of Kitchener, Ontario pointed out a error in a back-up story and requested a no-prize. Good luck with that, Bill. Despite my having fifty or more letters published in various Marvel titles, I never got a no-prize. Despite working at Marvel, I never got a no-prize. I didn’t get a no-prize until sometime in the early 1990s. I pitched some ideas to a Marvel editor and he mailed me a  no-prize in response. I chose to be amused.

That’s all for today. Come back next Wednesday for another Rawhide Kid adventure. Come back on Friday for other cool stuff.

© 2014 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ARCHER & ARMSTRONG

When the fine folks at Valiant learned I had not been reading their relaunched titles, they sent me review copies of the first volumes of several of their titles. Then they started sending me the new issues of the titles as they were published. Then, outside of some comments here and there about how much I liked the titles, I kept putting off reviewing any of them. Bad Tony.

This churlish neglect of some darn fine comic books is mostly but not entirely my fault. I enjoyed the Valiant collections enough that I wanted to read all of the issues between the initial volumes and the later issues they were sending me.  While it’s not exactly a case of “the first one is free,” the end result is the same. I’m hooked on Valiant.

My favorite of the new Valiant titles is Archer & Armstrong by Fred Van Lente with art by Clayton Henry, Emanuela Lupaccino, Guillermo Ortega, Pere Perez and Khari Evans. Archer is “youthful idealist Obadiah Archer, who was adopted and raised by an evil organization called the Sect.” The branch that raised Archer was the Dominion, but I’ll get to them after this digression.

Digression. While it’s not exactly a flaw, it is worth noting that every Valiant series has at least one and often more than one evil secret organization. It’s a good thing these evil organizations are secret because if the average citizens knew about them they would be even more paranoid than Fox News viewers.  End of digression.

Armstrong is Aram Anni-Padda, one of three brothers who stole this mystical thingamabob called the Boon about ten thousand years ago. This did not bode well for the brothers or the world, but it left Aram immortal. He scattered the pieces of the Boon throughout the world and then got down to serious adventuring, drinking and sex. This is a simplification, but not much of one.

Everybody in the Sect wants Aram dead, but not until they get the parts of the Boon. Archer won the Dominion Teenage Assassin crown and is sent to kill Aram and recover the Boon. He is being played, but I’m sure you already figured that out. If you’ll look down at the next paragraph, I have another digression for you.

Digression. Archer can do all kinds of stuff and knows all kinds of stuff. Though the captions pointing out his abilities and knowledge are sometimes difficult to read, they are also both informative and amusing. If it’s not too much trouble to make them a little larger for us old folks, but only if it’s not too much trouble, that would be nice and, yes, I’ve turned into your passive-aggressive granny. I think we all knew it was just a matter of time. Which brings us to the end of this digression.

Van Lente brings a Steve Gerber-like wit to the proceedings. Aram and Obadiah are likeable characters. It’s easy for the reader to be in their corner. They screw things up from time to time, but they always try to make those things right. Some of their exchanges had me chuckling out loud. But nothing in the series is more delightful than the wild and crazy secret organizations that are part of this series.

The Dominion are pseudo-fundamentalists with their own theme park. The Sisters of Perpetual Darkness are sword-wielding nuns. The One Percent are exactly who you would expect them to be.  We also get hashish-eaters, actual gnomes of Zurich and the Black Bloc, whose members wear boxes on their heads.

Van Lente’s writing is the biggest attraction for me, but the art is always excellent as well. Though the artists change every three or four issues, the characters are always easily recognizable. “On model” is what we used to call this back in the day. It’s a concept with which I wholeheartedly agree.

The production values on Archer & Armstrong and all Valiant titles are high. The individual issues and collections look good.  Pride in appearance is also a concept with which I agree. Which leads me to another digression.

Digression. Before I decided I had to have the Archer & Armstrong issues between those collected in the first volume and the first of the single issues (#16) I was sent, I had no trouble following the story despite not having read issues #5-15. There are two reasons for this. One, the inside front covers of the single issues have a helpful summation of what has gone before. Two, being not just a good writer but also a skilled writer, Van Lente makes it easy for a reader to stay in the loop.  End of digression.

Archer & Armstrong is a fine series. If you like super-hero comics that are outside the norm and reasonable self-contained, you will like this series. I’m liking the heck out of it.
  
Archer & Armstrong Vol. 1: The Michelangelo Code (collects Archer & Armstrong #1-4)

ISBN: 9-780979-640988

Archer & Armstrong Vol. 2: Wrath of the Eternal Warrior (collects Archer & Armstrong #5-9)

ISBN: 9-781939-346049

Archer & Armstrong Vol. 3: Far Faraway (collects Archer & Armstrong #10-13, 0)

ISBN: 9-781939-346148

Archer & Armstrong Vol. 4: Sect Civil War (collects Archer & Armstrong #14-17)

ISBN: 9-781939-346254

Every week or so, I’ll be writing about another of the new Valiant titles. I’m awaiting the X-O Manowar collections I’m missing, but they should arrive in a day or two. After that, I’m thinking maybe Harbinger or Shadowman. But I’m open to reader suggestions, so feel free to weigh in on this.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” bloggy thing. The title of the story is “When Stalks the Cougar” and has the Kid being pursued by an incredibly hot older woman.  Marvel was always ahead of its time.

© 2014 Tony Isabella

Monday, April 14, 2014

TONY'S TIPS #51

After you've read and hopefully comment on today's bloggy thing blast from the past, head over to Tales of Wonder for this week's installment of TONY'S TIPS. I write about Captain America: The Winter Solider, Thor: The Dark World and Marvel's Agents of SHIELD. Your comments would be greatly appreciated there as well.

JULY 1963: ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN #143

Today’s bloggy thing continues my 138-plus-part series on the comic books that hit the newsstands in the month of July 1963. That month was pivotal to my comic-book career because it was the month when Fantastic Four Annual #1 ignited my desire to write comics.  I’ve added the “plus” to my description of this series because there may be a few issues I missed in my initial explorations.

Adventures into the Unknown #143 [September 1963] was published by ACG - the American Comics Group - and edited by Richard E. Hughes, who also wrote many and perhaps most of the original stories in the company’s relatively few titles.  Ogden Whitney drew the sadly tame cover of this issue. The cover would have looked more lively if the three members of the Saloris tribe weren’t rendered in broken lines and colored green. But I’m not sure those basically cosmetic changes could have overcome the unfortunate dullness of the scene.

The inside front cover of the issue has a full-page ad for the “104 Kings’ Knights” set discussed in earlier parts of this series.  The same advertisers would place their ads in comic books from multiple publishers because it was a good and reasonable inexpensive way to reach their intended customer base.

“Old Ya-Hoooo!” (12 pages) leads off the issue and it’s a emotional yarn written by Hughes as Shane O’Shea with wonderfully expressive art by Chic Stone. The tale opens in a mental institute and tells of Jim Yates. The patient was once a respected railroad engineer. The title of the story comes from the nickname and customized train whistle of his Engine 1913.

Yates is cocky and too prideful in his abilities and those of his engine. He successfully drives a load of explosives through a raging forest fire. But a stray flame landed on the train and caused the cargo to explode when it reached the town of Menlo. Hundreds were killed. Yates was seriously injured and, brought to a courtroom on a stretcher, was found guilty of criminal negligence. He went mad and has grown to old age in the asylum.

Yates is near death when he hears that Menlo is in terrible danger. A dam is going to burst and flood the town, killing everyone in the path of those deadly waters. Yates escapes from the asylum with a mad plan to steal an engine and carry the townspeople out of harm’s way. Amazingly, Engine 1913 appears before him. The old man and his beloved engine rescue the townspeople, but, once the people are all safe, the engine unbuckles from the freight cars and plunges over a cliff. The people rush down the hill, but, before their startled eyes, both the old man and the old engine turn green - the color of ghosts in the ACG comics - and vanish.

Yates died in the asylum the previous night. He was already a ghost when he saved the town. His doctor gets the closing lines:

Just when they started filling in the grave, there came this sound, as if it was borne by the wind, sort of a mournful, grieving wail - “Ya-Hoooo! Ya-Hoooo!” Just like a farewell salute. Like someone saying goodbye!

Two half-page ads follow the story. You could “Hatch Your Own Live Sea Circus” for only $1 (plus a quarter for shipping). It’s those familiar sea monkeys with a new sales pitch.

The other half of the page announces a “Reward $11,750.00 for This Coin!” Best Values will sell you its latest 1963 catalogue listing the actual prices you would pay for the U.S. coins listed in said catalogue. The price is a buck.

“Let’s Talk It Over!” is a lively two-page letters column.  Editor Hughes had some of the best letters columns in comics. He disagreed with readers when he thought their criticism of a story was wrong, admitted they had a point when a story came up short in his mind and almost always treated them with respect. The letters this time out were from:

Peggy Beadle (LaCrosse, Wisconsin)
Roderick McLean (Sydney, Australia)
Richard Weingroff (Baltimore, Maryland)
Robert Yu (Hong Kong)
Milton Gocus (Hammond, Oregon)
Jerry Randall (Savanna, Illinois)

“Through the Veil” (7 pages) is next. It’s a reprint designated as such by a “Fanfare Series” blurb. John Rosenberger is the artist, but the writer has not yet identified. Also unidentified is where the reprint came from.  The Grand Comics Database doesn’t have any listing for a story with this title.

This is a so-so story and Rosenberger’s art is not up to its usual quality. Patient Vic Bailey gets too big a dose of X-rays and finds himself able to communicate with aliens from another Earth that we can’t see, even though it’s part of our world. The aliens give all sorts of futuristic technology to Vic in the hope that he can make a bridge between our worlds. Unfortunately, Vic’s wife and doctors think he’s looney and cure his “condition” by exposing him to gamma rays. Though Vic is angry over losing his connection to the other world, he does not turn into the Hulk.

“You Can’t Teach Fairy-Tales!” (7 pages) is the last story in the issue. Written by Hughes as Zev Zimmer and drawn by Gerald McCann, it’s as dull as the cover it inspired. It’s probably not fair for me to second-guess an editor fifty years after he put together this issue, but “Old Ya-Hoooo!” could have provided a much more exciting  cover scene that this tale.

Professor of Anthropology Homer Addison is fixated on the legendary Saloris tribe of Africa, so much so that he is warned by the dean of the college to stop discussing the tribe in his classics. Since Addison is conveniently independently wealthy, he finances his own expedition to look for the tribe.

After harrowing adventures and abandoned by his bearers, Addison stumbles on a Saloris woman in jeopardy and rescues her. The white woman disappears in front of him. Later, when Addison faces peril, the woman returns with two black members of the tribe.  They rescue him and bring him to safety.

Back at the college, Addison refuses to discuss the Saloris tribe. The dean congratulates him on this.

DEAN: Congratulations, Professor. I heard that you’ve given up on the Saloris. Guess you abandoned your favorite subject because you found out there was nothing you could say about them, eh?

ADDISON: On the contrary, sir. There’s a lot I could say, but it would only make you repeat what you once told me – You can’t teach fairy-tales!

Following the story is a full-page ad from the U.S. School of Music offering a “Free Note-Finder” that “Guides Your Fingers to Right Key for Every Note!” This ad is a come-on which also offers a free illustrated booklet - “Now You Can learn Music in Your Own Home” - and asks which of 13 different instruments the responder would like to learn how to play.

The inside back cover ad is from the venerable Johnson Smith & Co. The lead item is a “New Jet Engine” that sells for $1.50. It flies by itself or powers your models. Other items include smoke bombs, a chameleon and a carbide cannon.

The back cover is the Christmas card ad from Wallace Brown Inc.  We wrote about it in previous installments of this July 1963 series.

Adventures into the Unknown was usually better than this off-issue would indicate. I’ll be writing about a few other ACG titles later in this series.

I’ll be back tomorrow with Valiant’s Archer & Armstrong and other comics stuff.

© 2014 Tony Isabella

Sunday, April 13, 2014

DOC SAVAGE #73: LAND OF LONG JUJU

Here’s another new book from Anthony Tollin’s Sanctum Books. Doc Savage #73: Land of Long Juju and Se-Pah-Poo [$14.95] reprints two novels by Laurence Donovan and Lester Dent (writing as Kenneth Robeson) and a Captain Fury short by Donovan (writing as Wallace Booker). This volume also features a new historical essay by the ever-informative Will Murray.

Land of Long Juju was originally published in Doc Savage Magazine for January, 1937. Superstition plays a large part in both of this volume’s Doc Savage novels and, as Murray points out, some consider Juju to be one of the most racist Doc novels of all. As editor and publisher Tollin points out in every one of his books, these novels are the product of their time and sometimes contain “out-of-date ethnic and cultural stereotyping.” From the back cover:

The capture of Renny Renwick by African warriors of the mysterious Shimba propels Doc and Patricia Savage on a daring mission to the Land of Long Juju.

Se-Pah-Poo is from the February 1946 issue of Doc Savage Magazine. From the back cover:

The bizarre murder of an archeologist in Arizona and a withered hand lead the Man of Bronze to an ancient lost city.

Cap. Fury - also known as The Skipper - was the star of his own short-lived magazine. Though the magazine only ran a dozen issues, Fury also appeared in 39 novelettes in Doc Savage Magazine. “Satan is a Sailor” ran in the February 1938 issue of the magazine.

Sanctum Books will be reprinting the Cap Fury novels in their own series. I’ll be writing about the first book soon.

As with other Sanctum Books editions - The Avenger, The Shadow and others - these Doc Savage double novels are entertaining journeys into the heroic fiction of the pulp era.  They’re wonderfully made books and I regularly despair I might never get around to reading all of them.  But what I can and will do is let you know about the new releases as they appear.  More Sanctum Books news is on the way.

© 2014 Tony Isabella

Saturday, April 12, 2014

BETTY AND VERONICA DOUBLE DIGEST #221

Betty and Veronica Double Digest #221 [April 2014; $3.99] has 164 pages of stories and features from Archie Comics. 

My pick for the best of the bunch is "Flying High" by the late, great and oh-so-missed George Gladir with art by Bob Bolling (pencils), Jim Amash (inks) and Barry Grossman colors). The lettering is by Teresa Davidson. In this 15-page period adventure, the gals and Archie play other characters. Betty is a barnstorming pilot and stunt double for movie actress Veronica. Archie is Betty's mechanic. It's a fun story with a surprise guest star on the last page. This might also be the first publication of the story. I couldn't find any reprint information at the Grand Comics Database.

There are lots of other terrific writers and artists in this issue. To name a few: Frank Doyle, Dan DeCarlo, Rudy Lapick, Bill Golliner, Fernando Ruiz, Barbara Slate, Stan Goldberg, Dan Parent.

As always, I recommend these Archie double digests as a wonderful change of pace from the usual maybe-complete-in-twelve-issues comics you usually read. There are over thirty complete stories waiting for you here.

Keep watching the bloggy thing for more mini-reviews of Archie digests.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

THE GARFIELD SHOW: LONG LOST LYMAN

The Garfield Show #3: Long Lost Lyman [Papercutz; Hardcover $11.99, Softcover $7.99] features three comic-book stories based on the television show and, of course, the characters created by Jim Davis. I think it's a terrific book, but I may be a wee bit biased.

The editor of this book is Jim Salicrup, a dear friend of mine who I worked with at Marvel and Topps Comics. The stories were originally written by Mark Evanier and others. Mark and I have been good friends since we were teenagers.  The art for these stories is taken from the popular cartoon show. I am credited with "dialogue restoration," which means I tried to put as much of the original scripts by Mark and the others back into these comics. My scripts were then lettered by Tom Orzechowski, yet another old friend. I was thrilled to be working with so many talented friends.

If you like Garfield, you'll like this book. If you just want to buy some kind of comic book that has my name on it, I'll like that. But, speaking as someone who really had very little to do with how much fun this book is, I think you'll like it.  

Hardcover:

ISBN 978-1-59707-512-1

Softcover:

ISBN 978-1-59707-511-4