Showcase #80 (DC)

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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

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Christmas With the Super-Heroes #1 (DC)

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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

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

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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.

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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

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Showcase #37 (DC)

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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

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Tiger-Man #1 (Atlas)

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CREDIT: Atlas

Rating: 2.5/5 – Some Comics Are Best Left in The Back Issue Bin.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

A while back I had written a review for Atlas’ Planet of the Vampires which I enjoyed quite a bit and since then I’ve really come to appreciate Atlas Comics as a company, what they set out to do, and the wide range of titles they produced in their very short life span. My collection of Atlas books is almost complete, but I’m still missing a handful of issues including the tough to find second through fourth issues of Vicki and the third issue of Tiger-Man. As I slowly read my way through Atlas’ line of books, it does become clear on why some of their titles failed to connect with the readers of the time. Case in point, Tiger-man number one.

The cover exclaims that this is “the debut of the world’s newest, most exciting super-hero” and although Atlas thought so, in 1975 I’m not quite sure the readers did. Reading this issue forty years later I enjoyed the art by Ernie Colon, but the story fell flat for me with a hero who’s design fails spectacularly. Dr. Lancaster Hill is studying tigers at a clinic in Africa. During those studies he identifies and extrapolates the chromosome that gives the tiger its power. Wasting absolutely no time, he injects himself with it, not out of saving his life or by accident, but out of his own curiosity. That gives him the strength and speed of a tiger, which he uses to kill and maul an attacking tiger just a few panels later. For someone who respects the creature so much, seeing him maul the attacking tiger while yelling “Die, Die, Die!” seemed contradictory and extreme.

As he makes his way back home a tragedy occurs within his family and he uses his newfound tiger abilities to seek his revenge. Like many of Atlas’ creations, they borrowed a lot from what was popular at the time, but their character designs definitely stood out. Iron Jaw and the Scorpion have some cool designs that hold up, but Tiger-Man’s was a miss from the start. Donning the pelt of the tiger he killed, the choice to have him wear a blue under suit makes him look a bit ridiculous. Also, although Colon’s art isn’t bad, his sequential story telling during the action scenes are confusing, and many times the characters come off as stiff which surprised me as I love Colon’s work. I also have to make mention of the lettering as I noticed it plenty of times throughout, and unfortunately not in a good way. Lots of words are underlined for effect, and it’s all the same straight capitalized font giving it a typewriter-like feel.

I love the Atlas line of comics, but this one was a disappointment. A poor character design, a story with little depth and creativity, and some cheap production make this an Atlas title you should avoid. All that being said, the collector in me still wants that third issue to complete this run, and get me ever closer to completing my Atlas collection. I’m on the hunt for issue three, but although I’m on the hunt, after reading this issue I’m in no rush.

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

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Action Comics #300 (DC)

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CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 3.5/5 – The Last Man on Earth Under a Red Sun!
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

With a 300th issue you’d expect some mention of an anniversary, or even a congratulations for reaching a historic milestone. In today’s comic market we’ll celebrate a series getting to twenty-five issues let alone three-hundred. The 300th issues of Detective Comics and Adventure Comics also didn’t get any celebratory honor. It wasn’t until their 400th issue that Action, Adventure and Detective Comics got some type of honorable mention for their achievements. Although Action Comics three-hundred didn’t celebrate it’s Anniversary, what it did get was an absolutely fantastic cover by Curt Swan, which of course ties into the main story of this issue titled “Superman Under the Red Sun”.

Writer Edmond Hamilton tells the tale of just what happens when our Earth’s sun moves from yellow to red, one-million years in the future. When Superman chases after the Superman Revenge Squad who have just entered Earth’s atmosphere in their UFO like spaceship. After drawing his attention in order to have their revenge on him for stopping their crimes years ago when he was Superboy, they race their spaceship so fast they travel into the future, knowing Superman will chase them. It’s a future where Superman is powerless under the Red Sun so he has to come up with a plan to travel back to the present without any of his powers. While he does so, he encounters crazy evolved creatures like a multi-colored tiger, and a race of androids of all of Superman’s supporting characters that we’re to be used in yearly parades commemorating his life. The story definitely has its silver age feel to it that culminates in Superman of course getting back home, but it’s how he does so that makes this issue so fun, and just the right amount of goofy.

I did learn a couple new things from this issue. The first being that under Earth’s yellow sun, Superman’s hair and nails don’t grow. Explain that 90s version of Superman with a mullet! (I’m sure it’s only pre-Crisis Superman that has this issue). Also, in the back-up story that stars Supergirl and Comet the Super-Horse, I learned the origin of Comet which I never knew. Although it’s not a true origin story since it’s briefly mentioned over the course of just a few panels, I was glad that it was included. The story wasn’t as entertaining as the first, but the inclusion of Comet’s origin was worth the read, and the knowledge.

Although I didn’t enjoy the second story of this issue that’s just as long as the first, it was still an enjoyable book with a cover that I’ll never forget. There’s a lot of joy to be had by reading these older Action Comics and this is an issue that because of it not having any Anniversary mentions or major appearances can be found pretty cheap. Even if the story doesn’t appeal to you, where else will you find such a striking image of Superman? Especially one with Superman sporting some longer hair and a beard!

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

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The Witching Hour #3 (DC)

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CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 4/5 – It’s 12 O’Clock…It’s Time for Some Great Comics!
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

I’m a huge fan of the Warren, Skywald and other horror magazines of the 1960s and 70s. Fantastic art by legendary creators could be found throughout these books, especially in the Warren line of magazines. Frank Frazetta, Gray Morrow, Tom Sutton and many more had their art showcased within Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella while artists and writers like Gardner Fox, Len Wein and Bill Everett could be found in the pages of Skywlad’s line of books. But magazines weren’t the only place you could find some amazing talents working within the illustrated worlds of horror and science fiction. DC in the late 60s and throughout the 70s published quite a few horror anthologies including House of Mystery, Ghosts and The Witching Hour and many more. The Witching Hour, like most of the horror comics and magazines that came after E.C. of course used a host, or in this case hosts, which included three Witches. Mordred who resembles a classic witch with the high hat and long nose, sister Mildred who’s a heavy set woman with a not so pretty face and the sexy step-sister Cynthia who wore a mini skirt and boots. In this and other issues, the three Witches have a character or the reader decide on whose tale was the scariest. In this third issue of The Witching Hour, I’d have to select Mildred’s as the best.

In “The Turn of the Wheel”, Alex Toth and Vince Colletta draw and ink a medieval kingdom ruled by an awful King called Klaus the Cruel. Within his dungeon lies a wheel that serves as a symbol of the people’s torturous oppression. A group of townsfolk decide to steal the wheel and the King does everything in his power to get it back. He becomes obsessed with his mission, becoming even more despicable than he was when he owned it. Of course there’s a twist ending that I wouldn’t want to spoil here, but it did leave me guessing until the end. Alex Toth’s art is of course fantastic, especially in the character work. The King ages throughout the story and he looks more menacing with each subsequent time period. Although Toth’s work does look better, like many of the artist’s work mentioned above in black and white, it’s still a great looking story!

If we’re ranking the stories, the second one titled “The Death Watch” told by Mordred would be my second favorite. Not because of the art, but because of the story. It’s only three and a half pages with an ad taking up half of the fourth page, but they’re able to pull it off. Without credits I’m not sure who wrote or drew the story, but I’ll give the credit to editor Dick Giordano. This short story has a younger man being rushed to the hospital after a horrific car crash. As his parents rush to the ER, we see doctors desperately trying to save him which ends in another twist ending that works because it’s so quick, and as a reader you don’t have the time to see it coming.

Finally, Bernie Wrightson’s pencils can be found in the last story told by Cynthia. An average man is abducted from a different dimension and transformed into a Conan-like figure that’s perfect for the pencils of Wrightson. Wrightson is able to draw a warrior battling a four-armed man army while riding atop a snake like horse! It’s classic sword and sorcery with a bit of horror thrown in. Although his pencils aren’t as detailed as what we’re used to in his later years, it’s still an impressive work and uses the coloring of the time surprisingly well.

After the third story concludes, we see the Witches again as they brag about their storytelling and depart ways until the next issue. The Witching Hour will have Wrightson and Toth again in later issues, as well as Neal Adams and more. It’s a great title that ran until 1978 and DC’s infamous Implosion, where it then combine with Unexpected. Although the early issues of The Witching Hour aren’t cheap unless found in rougher shape, if you do get a chance, try and add these to your collection as they make for some quick and entertaining reads while delivering some gorgeous and haunting art.

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

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