Retro Comics are Awesome

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andersonh1
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Action Comics Weekly #601
May 24, 1988

... And the Pain Shall Leave My Heart
Script: James Owsley Art:Gil Kane

No rules, John said. Feels funny - putting on this uniform and not having rules to obey.

Out in space, Carol Ferris/Star Sapphire reflects on who Hal Jordan/Green Lantern is, and how his bosses the Guardians took away the planet she ruled and the family she had there in the form of the Zamarons. This is not long after the Crisis, when the Guardians left the universe with the Zamarons, so Star Sapphire had just established herself as queen when the entire planet abandoned her. Once she loved Hal, now she hates him. Interestingly she's wearing the Star Sapphire gem in a power ring, years before Geoff Johns turned the Star Sapphires into another ring Corps. Sapphire decides that with the Guardians gone, Hal is the only one she can take out her desire for revenge on.

Meanwhile Hal is broke and looking for a job and living in the apartment of newlyweds John Stewart and Katma Tui, so that's obviously not going to work well. Arisia is also there with them and apparently in a relationship with Hal at this point. John suggests Hal go take some diamonds from an abandoned mine in South Africa, since without the Guardians, "there are no rules" and anyway since the mine is abandoned, it's not theft. Hal does just that, despite feeling guilty about doing so. Meanwhile Sapphire arrives on Earth and goes to find Hal. She finds Katma alone in the apartment and decides that she'll do to send a message since Katma was a Green Lantern, so Star Sapphire kills Katma. When Hal returns, John is there and blames Hal for the death of his wife.

I've been meaning to read the ACW Green Lantern series for a while now. I wondered if it was in this book where the story of Star Sapphire killing Katma Tui took place, and indeed it is. Gil Kane does not indulge in blood and gore, showing only Star Sapphire swinging her sword for several panels, and all we see of the murdered Katma is her hand, covered with cuts. This has always felt like a death written for shock value to me, and actually reading the story has not changed my mind. This along with the destruction of Xanshi were used to define John Stewart for a long time, often to the detriment of the character in my view. Gil Kane's art is past its prime, but not bad by any means, and at eight pages, it feels like this story barely starts before it's over.

Action Comics Weekly #602
May 31, 1988

Requiem
Script: James Owsley Art:Gil Kane

GL: Why attack me to begin with? I've done nothing to you!
Sapphire: Wrong. You exist. You live, you breathe, you are!


At least we get to see Katma's face this issue. John is angry and lashing out, and Hal is devastated as John runs down the status quo (in some old school writing that catches readers up) about how there are only three Green Lanterns left, how he came home and found Katma dead, with Star Sapphire at the window, telling John to give the message to Hal. Hal goes after Sapphire, but has no luck finding her, on Earth or off. At the funeral we see John, Hal, Arisia and Kilowog, and learn that when Hal called Guy to tell him about Katma's death, Guy just laughed. This was the era of Guy Gardner being a jerk who cared about nothing and no one but himself, but that's low even for him.

As if to stick the knife in and twist it, Sapphire attacks Katma's funeral, leading to an aerial fight over Coast City between GL and Sapphire. When Hal has to leave the fight to save a jet that got hit during their conflict, Sapphire leaves. But she left another "note" for Hal with the pilot of the plane in the form of a telephone book with her name circled.

I guess at only eight pages and with a weekly book, stories that pick up where last issue left off and end unresolved are to be expected.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Detective Comics #193
March 1953

The Joker's Journal!
Script: David Vern Reed Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Charles Paris

See Gaines for Guns! All makes and types, serial numbers sawed off! Ammunition too!

Madison Cement Co. Bury your troubles with us! No more stiffs turning up to get you in a jam with the law! We offer you foolproof protection - put your corpses in our cement blocks and dump them in the river.


"The Joker's Journal" doesn't refer to a personal journal, but rather a newspaper. After being forced to work on the prison newspaper and publish stories of the law triumphing over criminals, the Joker is really angry. When he escapes from prison during transport to a trial, the Joker decides to use his newfound skills to start a crime newspaper that will make him money. And so the "Joker's Journal" is born, a newspaper that praises crime, runs ads selling plans for the perfect crime, public (criminal) opinion polls on Batman and Robin, who they hate more, and comic strips mocking "Batman the Sapman" (and I love how the Joker's signature is in the same type of box that Bob Kane's signature is in for these Batman comics). The crooks love it, but Gordon wants it shut down promptly.

The story takes a familiar track here as Bruce disguises himself as a crook to infiltrate the operation, something we've seen him do numerous times. And while he has some success, he is eventually found out, something else that is typical of a number of stories. The Joker figures out that he's Batman in disguise and the crooks put him to work on the paper, mocking him all along the way. That was, of course, a mistake on their part as Batman is able to get a hidden message out in a photograph that brings Robin and the police straight to the Joker's hideout, ending the scheme.

I went back and forth over whether I liked this story or not, but I think it shows the value of the Joker as a character, because who else would come up with a madcap scheme like this? It's a fun concept told in a formulaic way, something I don't really hold against the writers considering how many stories they've turned out over the years. The actual ads and other bits of the newspaper that we get to see early in the story are easily the most fun aspect of the story.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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World's Finest Comics #63
March-April 1953

The Crime Capsule!
Writer: Edmond Hamilton Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Charles Paris

Souvenirs of the underworld to go into a crime capsule! So that's the answer!

Instead of a time capsule, we have a "crime capsule", a vault containing items from famous crimes so that future generations will remember these "achievements". This project is being run by Bix Gelby, a seemingly genial, bald, cigar-smoking crook who pays well when crooks bring him objects like Al Capone's windshield, or a machine gun used in the St. Valentine's Day massacre. All the crooks in town want in on the action, and of course, Batman and Robin are working hard to solve his case.

After only taking items from famous crimes at first, Gelby begins to accept items from crooks around Gotham as well. If you suspect a plot twist is coming, you're right. Gelby went through all this collecting in order to blackmail Gotham's crooks and extort a million dollars from them all. If they don't pay him, he'll turn the capsule over to the police with all the evidence needed to send the crooks up the river. But Batman is able to get an item into the capsule (with a radio transmitter hidden inside it) by again disguising himself as a crook and offering an item which Robin, not aware of his plan, is shocked to see is from the Batcave.

There's no honor among thieves, and one crook scamming a bunch of other crooks makes for a good story. I like the way the fact that Robin is kept in the dark about Batman's plan allows the reader to be surprised along with Robin. Although knowing Batman's penchant for disguise, the idea that he had infiltrated the underworld was the most obvious way to explain an item from the Batcave showing up among the items for the crime capsule. And since Selby locked Robin in the capsule to die, it's fitting that Robin gets to capture Selby at the end of the story.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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So a few thoughts on the Starman Compendium:

- A 1,400 page trade paperback feels like a phone book, only heavier since it's on glossy paper
- the glossy paper makes the art pop even more than the original issues, which weren't on newsprint but were on flat stock, and the quality was already pretty good
- I was concerned about gutter loss on a book this thick, and sure enough, it's a problem more in the center of the book than the front and back. I could open the book wider, but I always try not to crack the spine on paperbacks.
- I can't complain about the economics of collecting the series this way. I bought it online for $35 (cover price is $60), so for a book that has around 50 issues reprinted, that's less than a $1 per issue.

Call this an experiment. We'll see how readable it is as I go through it. If I like it, I'll buy volume 2 if and when it comes out. If not, it didn't cost that much to give this format a try.

edit: video review of the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK_teBqiiBA

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman #76
April-May 1953

The Danger Club
Writer: Edmond Hamilton Pencils: Bob Kane Inks: Charles Paris

I hate to start out with a negative review, but here we ago again with the themed clubs in Gotham, where members are being killed one by one and the culprit turns out to be one of the members who did it for the money. We've seen this exact plot multiple times at this point and I'm just not sure there's any way to put a new spin on it. There are some positive things I noted about the story however. There are some nice continuity references as Batman recounts some of the many dangers he's survived as he joins the club. I like the sequence where Batman calls for Robin's help to escape the quicksand, and the action on top of the suspension bridge almost exactly matches the issue's cover, which is always a nice touch. There's nothing wrong with this story in isolation, but there's also nothing here that we haven't seen before.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Continuing Batman #76



The Penguin's Fabulous Fowls!
Writer: Edmond Hamilton Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Charles Paris

This is certainly a Penguin story that indulges in a unique variation on the formula. The Penguin is released from jail and claims yet again that he's going straight, but Batman doesn't buy it for a moment. The Penguin claims that famous birds of legend like the Phoenix or the Basilisk are real, and he's going to hunt them down. Batman doesn't believe any of it, but the Penguin heads overseas and then returns with crates which he claims contain living examples of these mythical creatures. The Penguin takes these supposed creatures out to his country aviary, but crooks set them free because the Penguin won't go back to a life of crime with them, or so he claims...

So the Penguin runs all over Gotham with Batman and Robin trying to catch these creatures, some of which stretch the definition of "bird" quite a bit. There's a winged lion, a thunderbird, a phoenix (which looks like a cartoon dragon as depicted by Schwartz, not a bird) a basilisk, and a "mystery bird that will end Batman's career". The story plays it straight until page 6 when we see the Penguin thinking about "the secret of his birds", so it's clear that there's more going on here. Long story short, all of these creatures are mechanical (how much did it cost the Penguin to build them? Where did he find a mechanical engineer to do it?) and the "mystery bird" isn't a bird at all, but a giant "man-bat" meant to distract Batman while the Penguin runs with his loot. It's not Kirk Langstrom, but it's the first "man-bat" of sorts that the Batman ever encounters. The Penguin is captured and the truth exposed.

So we've got a foot in a couple of genres here with a story that appears to be going the mythical, sci-fi route, only to be explained as something more mundane. It breaks from the usual Penguin formula, though it's partly in the "bird crime" formula the Penguin often indulges in. It's nice to see the Penguin doing something new, though some of his "birds" are nothing of the sort. I appreciate Batman's skepticism all through the story, both about the Penguin's motives and the nature of the winged creatures, because everyone else in the story just comes across as gullible, including Robin and Commissioner "These fabulous birds have been seen by the whole city, Batman! They're real!" Gordon. That's two stories out of this issue of Batman that have fallen a bit flat, in my view. Maybe the last one will save it.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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I've bought maybe a dozen Kyle Rayner Green Lantern issues out of the dollar bin at my local comic shop, because I've read so little of that era. I don't think I missed much, in all honesty. Kyle's fine as a character, but the book just doesn't feel quite "complete" with no Corps and limited outer space adventures. Of course I can hardly judge the whole era from a handfull of issues, but GL as a dime a dozen solo hero on Earth seems to be squandering a lot of the potential this concept has. Nice to see Alan Scott was a frequent guest star though.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Finishing Batman #76:

The Man of 100 Murders!

Writer: Bill Finger Art: Jim Mooney

I love the splash page with that dark city filled with lighted windows behind Batman, who is moving intently at the reader, cape draped over one shoulder, and firing a gun. Of course it's not the real Batman (and his thought balloon makes that clear), but it is still a great image. I could stand to see Jim Mooney draw more of these Batman stories. The story starts in the middle, with Robin and the Gotham police hunting down Bruce Wayne as a fugitive, and from there it goes back to the beginning where we meet Ferris Hedrant, an actor who always played a killer on screen. When he's rejected for a role, Hedrant broods on it until his mind snaps, and he becomes a killer for real, killing people in the same way that his characters killed in the movies. This reminds me of those early Clayface stories, with this guy being a low-rent Basil Karlo in some ways. And I'm sure we've seen a copycat killer before, but I'm drawing a blank on which story.

At any rate, the resolution of the story is the best part, as Bruce disguises himself as Hedrant, who sees that Batman has done this and hits him by surprise, taking the Batman costume. The goal is to escape a lynch mob, angry at Hedrant's murders. He wants them to chase the disguised Batman, while he escapes. The two have switched identities. Bruce of course is not easily caught, and he escapes being shot and then gassed by Hedrant, and is finally cornered on a moving train where he tricks Hedrant with ventriloquism and takes him down.

So some well-worn themes of Bill Finger's writing are the basis of a pretty good battle of wits between Batman and Hedrant, with Jim Mooney's art elevateing the story. This is easily my favorite of the issue.

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