Tales of Ghost Castle #1 (DC)

3f62de96-8ac4-4b1a-bf01-e7587aa76d90

CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 4/5 – A New Host for DC Horror – Lucien the Librarian!
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

If you look at some back issue reviews we’ve written in the past, I have a true love for the horror comics and magazines from the 1970s and 1980s. Although Creepy and Eerie are my favorites of the genre with their amazing lineup of creators, comics like the Witching Hour, House of Mystery or Skywlad’s range of magazines are always must buys when I can find them. Recently during one of Comicconnect’s monthly auctions I picked up the first issue of Tales of Ghost Castle, a series that only lasted for three issues in 1975. This first issue’s creators include Marty Pasko, Paul Levitz, Frank Redondo, Sergio Aragones and more so there’s plenty of quality telling some fun stories!

Tales of Ghost Castle also includes the first appearance of Lucien the Librarian, a character who’s mostly known for his appearances in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Here we’re introduced to him as the host and narrator of the four stories, which is a staple of horror comics and magazines of the time. Lucien is the caretaker and librarian of a castle in Transylvania where he pores over an extensive library of texts and tomes with his werewolf companion who has the clever name of Rover.

The first story that Lucien tells is by far the best of the bunch written by Paul Levitz and titled “A Child’s Garden of Graves”. It’s an adoption story that goes horribly wrong and has an ending that for its time as well for being in a DC comic is quite horrific when you think about it. A problematic young girl is adopted by a family and unfortunately she doesn’t get along with her new siblings. Her gardening skills take a dark turn and set the reader up for a story that can hold its own against DC’s other more popular, and longer running horror series.

We also get the story that’s referenced on the cover about a man and his mushrooms. It’s a theme that we’ve seen done plenty of times before, but it’s still an entertaining short tale that’s mushroom hook sets it apart. We also get a one page story where Aragones tells a funny, yet a bit juvenile gag and a clever story titled “A Soul a Day Keeps the Devil Away” about an office in hell where the staff has to keep up the daily quota of delivering a new soul a day or else they’ll be “fired”…which I would have loved to read more about 🙂

Although Tales of Ghost Castle didn’t last long, after reading this first issue I’m now on the hunt for the other two to complete the set. As far as I know, Tales of Ghost Castle hasn’t been collected so you’re best bet is to search the back issue bins. I was able to get the first issue in a comicconnect auction graded 9.2 (not slabbed) for $12 which I feel is a pretty fair price. Tales of Ghost Castle may be one of the lesser known DC horror books of the time, but after reading this first issue it’s not because of the content.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

ComicSpectrum ComicBookRoundup  Follow ComicSpectrum: ComicSpectrum Twitter ComicSpectrum FB

Advertisements
Posted in DC, DC Comics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Secret Origins #10 (DC)

8a326b20-1896-4c30-9f08-6f779c05e540

CREDIT: DC

Rating: 5/5 – Four Origins That Add to Phantom Stranger’s Legacy.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The creative lineup for this issue of Secret Origins includes names such as Alan Moore, Jim Aparo, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Joe Orlando and Ernie Colon.  This issue of Secret Origins’ talent roster is really something special and the stories and art that are produced by these talents live up to, and even exceeded my reputations. Secret Origins number ten is a spotlight on Phantom Stranger. A couple weeks back I reviewed the Silver Age reintroduction of the character so I’ve been on a bit of a Phantom Strange kick. In that review I had mentioned that the Phantom Stranger’s origin had never quite been defined up until the New 52 version of the character. Instead, the character has had multiple interpretations of his origin, providing a mystery around the character and where he came from.

This issue of Secret Origins embraces the mystery and takes it one step further by having four different stories by four different creative teams, each presenting a different take on the character’s origin with the first of the four stories being my personal favorite.

“Tarry till I Come Again” is written by Mike W. Barr and drawn by the amazing Jim Aparo. The opening splash page has the Phantom Stranger standing in front of a silhouette of Jesus hanging from the cross on Mt. Sinai, then quickly moves to the current day with Phantom Stranger inside a church asking for confession. This confession is where the Stranger explains that after King Herod kills his young child and wife, he bribes a soldier to be able to whip Jesus before he’s nailed to the cross. It’s a powerful story in words and Aparo’s art as he conveys all the emotion and anger in the young Stranger’s face. Each story is resolved in its ten pages so you get enough to tell a complete tale in each chapter and the ending here is as solid as the rest of the story.

Paul Levitz and Jose Garcia Lopez’s second story is titled “…and Men Shall Call him Stranger”. In this origin tale, the Stranger is an honest and honorable man living in a city that’s full of sin and morally corrupt society. Before the city is destroyed by the hands of God, an angel visits the stranger and offers salvation. Instead of being saved, the Stranger chooses to stay and save all those he can. It’s another powerful story that highlights Garcia-Lopez’s abilities to draw the human form and give his characters dynamic poses.

After a third story that’s a bit weak in comparison to the rest, Alan Moore and Joe Orlando finish the issue with a tale called “Footsteps”. One of the greatest writers in the medium telling an origin tale about one of DC’s oldest characters is reason enough to seek out this issue. Moore and Orlando shine in jumping back and forth between a group of homeless people living beneath the city and the Strfanger’s journey between heaven and hell and his meeting with Satan.

Four stories by four great creative teams including some of the best who have ever worked in the medium should have you searching out and reading this issue. It’s not a definitive origin for the character, but instead four interpretations of the character’s origin that add to his legacy and make him more interesting and compelling because of it. This issue can be found in many places for just a couple dollars and that is definitely a bargain for the quality found within.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

ComicSpectrum ComicBookRoundup  Follow ComicSpectrum: ComicSpectrum Twitter ComicSpectrum FB

Posted in comic book, comics, DC, DC Comics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kobra #1-4 (DC)

Kobra_Vol_1_1

CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 3.5/5 – Kobra’s Publishing History is Better Than the Story Itself.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The very first issue of Kobra has quite a few names in the credits box that I wasn’t expecting. The story is presented by Martin (Marty) Pasko with art by Jack Kirby, D. Bruce Berry and Pablo Marcos. Also, it’s listed that the plot is from Jack Kirby and Steve Sherman. Although the cover itself is surprising in that it’s by Ernie Chan and not Kirby, I also didn’t expect to see so many different creators involved on the interior of this and later issue. Luckily, about halfway through this first issue editor Gerry Conway explains the genesis of Kobra and just how it came to be in a letters page called the “Snake Pit”.

According to Conway, Carmine Infantino wanted Jack Kirby to create a story and characters around the concept of the Corsican brothers, conjoined siblings who after being separated at birth, can still feel the other sibling’s pains. Kirby took the idea and with the help of his assistant Steve Sherman and inker D. Bruce Berry created a first issue that unfortunately never saw the light of day in its original form. Kirby had decided to leave DC and head back to Marvel before the first issue was ever published which left the fate of Kobra shelved until Conway got a hold of it and had a new creative team make some changes.

That new creative team consisted of a personal favorite DC writer of mine, Martin Pasko, as well as artist Pablo Marcos who was brought in to redraw some of the scenes involving the hero Jason Burr, giving him a more youthful appearance. You can tell there were quite a few changes with this book because even in this first issue letter to the readers, it says “we turned to crack cover artist Joe Kubert” to essentially finish the issue, but as I mentioned previously and as you can see, the cover is clearly by Ernie Chan, with Kubert’s cover not appearing until issue number four. So, after all that creative information how was the actual comic itself? Well, unfortunately not that great except for Kirby’s art of course.

After a beautiful opening splash page by Kirby, the villain Kobra is opening a giant rock with an alien robot hidden in its center. Kobra is planning on using this robot which he calls the Servitor to do his bidding, which means killing his brother. It’s here that we then meet the good brother Jason Burr who’s being questioned by a detective at a student union building. Pasko’s script is definitely of it’s time with Burr asking the detective if he’s a Narc and stating “I’m not into any of that stuff (drugs). I get off on life…can you dig it?” I read plenty of back issues and you definitely give the writers of the time a pass, but neither Kobra as a villain or Jason as a hero are all that likable.  In addition, the dialogue and convenient storytelling make this first issue fun, but eye rolling at the same time. We do get to see the twins’ origins before a final confrontation that seemed to have come out of nowhere at the end, hinting at the changes the story and creators may have gone through in its confusing creation.

Kirby’s art is of course typical Kirby which I enjoyed quite a bit, but the characters never connected with me even reading up to issue number four. This series ran for a total of seven issues, but the rotating artists and confusion around the book’s publishing didn’t stop with that fourth issue. On the last panel of issue three it says “wait until next issue” and gives the title of issue four’s story, but on the very next page, the editor’s letter states that this is the last issue of Kobra! Not only that, but issue two’s art was by Chic Stone, issue three was by Keith Giffen and four by Pat Gabriele. Whew! I think the production history of Kobra is more interesting than the comics themselves and although I’ll need to find the last few issues of this series to see how it all turns out, I’m more than happy to read what I can find on just how and why this series went through so many creators!

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

ComicSpectrum ComicBookRoundup  Follow ComicSpectrum: ComicSpectrum Twitter ComicSpectrum FB

Posted in comic book, comics, DC, DC Comics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Showcase #80 (DC)

79b65e74-1ee6-4a50-af5a-0071efbfea6c

CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 4/5 – The 1969 Revival of The Phantom Stranger & Dr. 13.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The Phantom Stranger first appeared in 1952. With a tagline exclaiming “Is He Man…or Ghost?”, the series was an anthology that ran for six issues. Created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, Phantom Stranger’s original series didn’t last long.  He was in comic book limbo for 16 years until he was revived in the eightieth issue of Showcase, cover dated February 1969. Phantom Stranger’s origin has always been a mystery, so much so that until the New 52 version of the character, he’s never really had a true and definitive origin. He’s always been associated with religious origins, which were taken one step further in the New 52 by revealing him as Judas Iscariot, with his silver necklace signifying the thirty silver coins. I much preferred the mysterious origin rather than the one presented in the New 52, and you can read about that character in this issue, and his solo series that began a few months later in the late spring of 1969.

There are two stories in this issue, both of which were originally told in DC’s Golden Age titles, The Phantom Strange and Star Spangled Comics, but contain all new framing sequences that introduce the two characters to the readers of 1969. Despite them being reprints of stories from the early 1950s, I enjoyed each of them quite a bit! The first story is titled “The Three Signs of Evil” and has the Phantom Stranger tracking down a group of evil cultists who have used signs to signify three mystic regions in New York. The art by Carmine Infantino is great to look at, especially some later scenes that have the cult members shrouded in heavy greens attempting to sacrifice their victim.

Although this is a Phantom Stranger comic, the second story stars Dr. 13. Again, framed with all new art by Jerry Grandenetti that reprints the first Dr. 13 story from Star Spangled Comics #122, November 1951.  In this tale Dr. 13 is investigating a home where his father would speak to him from the dead, five years after his death. Dr. 13’s mission is to explain the seemingly mystical by proving that there’s a reasonable explanation for most everything. So with that origin, his convictions are put to the challenge before the story is out and it was great to see his origin since I’ve never read it before. Of course the story has a twist ending like most “horror” comics of the time, and although it was a tad goofy, I still enjoyed the issue and the final framing sequence that has Dr. 13 trying to explain the appearance and disappearance of the Phantom Stranger.

Showcase number eighty also has a gorgeous cover by Neal Adams that almost makes this worth buying for that image alone, but add in two stories from the golden age and a beautiful new framing sequence by Grandenetti and you have a must buy back issue. I was able to pick this comic up at this year’s C2E2 for about $30, which I consider a bargain, considering the Adams cover and the revival of one of DC’s more interesting characters.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

ComicSpectrum ComicBookRoundup  Follow ComicSpectrum: ComicSpectrum Twitter ComicSpectrum FB

Posted in comic book, comics, DC, DC Comics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Christmas With the Super-Heroes #1 (DC)

Christmas_SH

Rating: 4.5/5 – Classic Christmas Tales With a Charm That Cannot Be Beat!
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

This is a Christmas comic I bring out every year to display on my spinner rack as a holiday decoration, but this 1988 comic also a great read.  DC did some great Christmas themed stories over the year and this issue reprints some of the best.   It’s not really very expensive, it can be had for less than the price of most new comics, something for vintage comics aficionados to keep their eye out for.

This collection is a veritable who’s who of some of DC’s best creators, and who are all now legends of comics.  It contains, under a fabulous wraparound cover by John Byrne:

“Wanted: Santa Claus — Dead or Alive!”
Originally printed in DC Special Series #21
Story by Denny O’Neil with art by Frank Miller & Steve Mitchell. Batman helps a thug who takes a department store Santa job with some questionable intentions but has a change of heart.

“The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus!”
Originally printed in Justice League of America (1st series) #110
Story by Len Wein with art by Dick Dillin & Dick Giordano.  The JLA stops a plot by The Key to commit what we’d call today an act of domestic terrorism.  John Stewart takes a turn as Green Lantern and and a visit from the Phantom Stranger too.  We also see the Red Tornado get a new costume as a Christmas present!

“The TT’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol!”
Originally printed in Teen Titans (1st series) #13
Story by Bob Haney with art by Nick Cardy.   A riff on the Dickens classic as the Titans help crusty junkyard owner Ebenezer Scrounge learn the true meaning of Christmas.

“Star Light, Star Bright…”
Originally printed in DC Special Series #21
Story by Paul Levitz with art by Jose-Luis Garcia Lopez & Dick Giordano.  Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes set out to find the star that was seen over Bethlehem in the story of Jesus’ birth.

“‘Twas the Fright Before Christmas!”
Originally printed in DC Comics Presents (1978) #67
Story by Len Wein & E. Nelson Bridwell with art by Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson.  The Toyman is stirring up trouble and Superman gets a helping hand from Santa Claus…or does he?

“The Silent Night of the Batman”
Originally printed in Batman (1st series) #219
Story by Mike Friedrich with art by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano.  A series of Christmas Eve vignettes in Gotham City that occur whilst Batman sings Christmas carols with Commissioner Gordon and officers at the police station.  The Neal Adams art sells this one, my favorite of the stories in this issue.

This comic is well worth buying to add to your collection, it brings back memories of simpler days.  Some of the stories are a bit dated (which shaved a half point off the rating) but have a charm that cannot be beat.  And don’t skip the text piece at the end by editor Mark Waid where he talks about selecting the stories for this issue…pure magic!

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

ComicSpectrum ComicBookRoundup  Follow ComicSpectrum: ComicSpectrum Twitter ComicSpectrum FB

Posted in DC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Saga of Crystal, Crystal Warrior #1 (Marvel)

d551d422-78da-49b3-9710-34003b30f7c8

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

Rating: 3/5 – A Comic That Tied Into an ’80s Line of Toys.
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

After reading the latest issue of the Secret Wars tie-in book WeirdWorld, a character who hasn’t been seen in quite some time reappears…Crystar!  Knowing I had his first appearance in my collection, it was off to my back issue boxes to find out as much as I could about this obscure Marvel character.  On the inside front cover of first issue of The Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior, Marvel’s then Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter recalls the creation of this all new fantasy franchise. In the very early 1980s, Shooter is invited into the office of the then Vice President of Publishing who tasked Shooter to have his creative team come up with a new world and characters set solely in the fantasy genre. Along the way Shooter recounts, toy company Remco would possibly be interested in producing a line of toys based on this creation if it was good enough. So editors Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio and artist John Romita Jr. came up with Crystar and the Crystal Warriors, which Remco did like enough to publish a line of action figures before the first issue hit the stands in 1983.

crystar-poster

Writer Mary Jo Duffy, who around the same time was writing Marvel’s Star Wars comic was given the job to tell the story, and introduce all the main characters in this first issue. For the most part Crystar isn’t bad, but it does have its moments of corniness. Two brothers are about to ascend to the throne of Crystalium, a fantasy world with flying dragons, monsters, and buildings made of crystal. The two brother’s father had died years ago protecting the planet from the demon lord who the brothers learn is prophesied to return. That prophecy is delivered by the old wizard Ogeode who drove the demon lord back the first time. After that visit from Ogeode, the two brothers are then visited by an evil wizard named Zardeth who promises power and safety for their allegiance in the upcoming war. It’s at this point that the writing and script start to fail.

After the two initial meetings with opposing wizards, the brothers are somewhat split in their decision and begin fighting against each other, eventually splitting the kingdom between good and evil. The one brother Crystar eventually turns into the heroic Crystal Warrior while his brother Moltar becomes an evil being made of lava. The comic never really takes the brother’s split in one clear direction. At one point, it all looks as though the falling out happens because of an accident, while at another, brother Moltar is portrayed as just simply evil. You almost get the sense that Duffy didn’t want to commit to just one reason, which ultimately weakens the plot. There would be something more mature and more tragic about these two brothers if Moltar was played as a pawn in Zardeth’s attempt for control, but I do understand that this is a kid’s comic, introducing kid’s toys :). There’s also some blatant use of powers for no reason, some forced “advertising” for toys like the Shatterpult (Cystar’s catapult), and some cheap feeling origins for the supporting characters/toys like Warbow.

All that being said, this series did have eleven issues to flesh out the characters and the storyline so maybe I’m too quick to judge, but when compared to other toy tie-in books like ROM and The Micronauts, this doesn’t really measure up. At the same time, I’m still curious to see where this story ends up and if it’s as predictable as seems it will be. I’ll be heading on-line to find the rest of this series on the cheap and see just how and why Marvel characters like Alpha Flight, Nightctrawler and more make guest starring appearances in later issues.  I just hope I’m not too disappointed in the answer.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

ComicSpectrum ComicBookRoundup  Follow ComicSpectrum: ComicSpectrum Twitter ComicSpectrum FB

Posted in comic book, comics, Marvel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Showcase #37 (DC)

Showcase_37

CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 4/5 – Personalities Loom Large With The Metal Men!
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The Metal Men first appeared in Showcase comics number thirty-seven and were created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru. With Showcase being the title to try out new heroes and concepts like Adam Strange, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Rip Hunter just to name a few, the team first appeared in 1962 with a three issue stint before moving on to their own series in the middle of 1963. In their introduction here, Kanigher and Andru provide the Metal Men with a goofy but fun story that’s stronger because of their choice to highlight the team’s personality and quirks, rather than the action.

The story opens millions of years ago with the extinction of the dinosaurs. Well, all but one. A creature that looks like a stingray that can fly and shoot fire and freeze beams from its eyes is frozen in an ice age only to thaw out in modern times. When the creature breaks free from its icy sleep, it wreaks havoc and destruction until the army calls on the one man who can “make science fiction ideas practical”, Dr. Will Magnus. It’s with Dr. Magnus’ introduction that we also first meet the Metal Men. Gold, Lead, Iron, Mercury, Tin and the female of the group, Tina or Platinum. Yes the setup of the story is corny, but the individual personalities of the team including Magnus himself is what makes this issue and this team so great.

As each individual Metal “Man” introduces himself, Kanigher gives us some great insight into their character, as well as some scientific facts. For example, Gold says “I can be hammered into a sheet 4 millionths of an inch thin!”. Those facts in addition to the fun is what I’m sure readers of the time appreciated and leant to the team getting their own series. What’s also a product of its time though is Dr. Magnus’ chauvinistic personality. On multiple occasions in this issue he compares Tina to a “real” woman in negative ways. In one scene Dr. Magnus says to Tina, “You sound just like a real woman! Can’t take orders without arguing!”. And in another scene he talks about his lack of control when it comes to Tina being like a real woman, and that it must be a few “bugs” in the system that he’ll have to remove. If you can get past these comments, then there’s just so much to enjoy about each member of the team like Tin who wants to do his best despite his small stature, or Mercury’s hot headedness and want to take action. When the team finally attempts to stop the creature, I was surprised with what happened next and how the issue ended!

To me, the Metal Men are probably the most under-utilized team within the DCU as the concept behind them offers so many story possibilities and tales just waiting to be told. Unfortunately they haven’t had their own series for years, but DC has announced a new Metal Men series to be released in 2016 so until then, do yourself a favor and get to know them a bit better. There’s so many great back issues just waiting to be read and read them you should!

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

ComicSpectrum ComicBookRoundup  Follow ComicSpectrum: ComicSpectrum Twitter ComicSpectrum FB

Posted in DC, DC Comics, Silver Age | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment