by Michael Vance & Dr. Jon Suter
October 2, 1998
Reviews in this issue:
Dead or Alive #1
Comics Legend - George McManus
Pulp Heroes Annuals
32 pgs., $2.95, Dark Horse/"Drums...": story - Brian McDonald; art - Derek Thompson; "Heads": Mike Mignola/sold in comics shops and by mail.
Abe Sapien is an investigator at the paranormal agency that sends Hellboy on his supernatural adventures.
He was not technically born, so Abe must have been plucked from the 1950s because he looks like the Creature From The Black Lagoon.
His "Drums of the Dead" reads like a well-written and illustrated '50s "Creature Feature" on late night television.
It is based on the old belief that sharks still haunt the sea lanes to America where slaves were thrown overboard in the 19th century.
It and its backup feature are both predictable but entertaining.
Like a frustrating kiss goodnight, that second story is too brief to be more than creepy.
The art paints its somber mood on an old Asian myth about vampires. "Heads" features Hellboy (creator Mignola's de-homed "Hot Stuff The Tuff Little Devil").
Abe Sapien is recommended.
-- Michael Vance
Dead or Alive #1
First of 4 parts, 20 pgs., $2.50, Dark Horse/script: Tatjana; illustrations: Alberto Ponticelli/sold in comics shops and by mail.
Black humor is satiric, not comedic, and exaggerates ugliness.
Of the good and the bad, Dead or Alive is indeed ugly.
It isn't plot ugly.
Aliens invade an Earth not worth invading. But plot is not the focus of satire.
It isn't word ugly.
Dialog is crisp and minimal. There is much creative, well-written insight into some aspects of the films, comics and television parodied by this title.
It isn't art ugly.
Its art is among the best in comics.
'Tis its ultra-violence and nuditv that makes any recommendation here reluctant.
Life is more than sex, violence and drugs. Hopefully, creators will discover the rich fields of family, politics, religion, work, and other forms of entertainment that remain relatively untapped in comic books.
-- Michael Vance
Just as spinach and Popeye are always associated with one another, corned beef and hash and Jiggs were inseparable in the funny pages.
In fact, Jiggs' "daddy" was also inseparable from the funny pages.
A cartoonist at 16, George McManus' first comic strip was not about Jiggs. It was about The Newlyweds and Their Baby (1904- 1912). When McManus changed syndicates, he renamed the family oriented feature Their Only Child. He abandoned it, however, when his masterpiece struck pay dirt. It would reappear as Jiggs" co-feature in the 1930's as Snookums.
McManus' second strip didn't feature Jiggs either. In the short lived Nibsy the Newsboy (1905- 1906) he transformed New York City into a fairyland and street-wise parody of another famous strip, Little Nemo.
George McManus' masterpiece was Bringing Up Father (1916- ) and Jiggs, an Iris bricklayer who won the Irish sweepstakes.
Bringing Up Father was a broad but gentle caricature of immigrants and the new rich in America. Maggie, his snooty wife, played second fiddle to her immigrant, and despite all of her efforts to refine him, she could never get the corned beef and hash out of Jiggs.
McManus' distinctive design influenced art was simple and powerful. (Patterns like checker- boards and herringbone were everywhere). Even though Jiggs, Maggie and many of their friends looked like shaved monkeys, it was not because McManus lacked artistic talent. He was a master cartoonist.
McManus' comic book work includes Bringing Up Father (Kin& 1917, Cupples & Leon, 1919-1934), The Trouble of Bringing Up Father (Embee, 1921), Four Color #37 (Dell), and Large Feature Comic #9 (Dell). His work has also appeared in many comic strip anthologies including The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics.
...Father has continued with varying success beyond McManus' death in 1954.
The work of George McManus is very highly recommended.
Published over many years, some titles may be difficult to locate. A price guide or comics dealer will help. Comic book shops, mail order companies, trade journals and comics conventions are best sources. Prices vary widely; shop around.
-- Michael Vance
Some weeks ago, I raised the question of whether DC Comics could equal its first "Pulp Heroes" series of annuals, in particularly the Superman/Doc Savage story. I have now seen several more of the series, and I have to admit that not one has yet surpassed that one.
There are some excellent new entries, but that one is still fat ahead of its competitors.
Several involve members of the Batman "family". They vary widely in style.
Hard-boiled detectives were a staple of Block Mask and other pulps. The"Azrael" annual follows that tradition with a fairly clever adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon but the John Huston film is the true source of this adaptation.
The Catwoman replaces Bridget O'Shaughessy and Axrael mimics Sam Spade. Those unfamiliar with the novel or film may miss some of the humor. The story ends with an awful pun.
The "Robin" annual is a parody of spaghetti westerns but is set in modern Gotham City and its environs.
The Huntress, Pow-Wow Smith (a character not seen In decades), and Nighthawk help Robin defeat the Trigger Twins (or is it Trigger Triplets?).
How can a classic Western shootout take place in Gotham?
The western and mystery genres don't jell completely, but give this a B anyway.
The "Catwoman" annual involves the felonious feline in grave robbing and the awakening of a very angry Egyptian mummy who decides Catwoman can best atone for her crimes by marrying him.
The mummy has evidently studied English in his spare time since he seemingly comprehends Catwoman's American slang. (Pulp stories usually took for granted that everyone spoke English or had a polylinguist in the cast.) We never know who the mummy is, but the story works as a blend of spoof and suspense.
I like stories about mummies, so I give this an Al.
The best of this quartet is the "Batman" annual. The art alone justifies an A. The story involves yet another semi-mystical, semi-scientific menace from Tibet but is refreshingly free of the worst excesses of the Fu Manchu genre.
Be sure to buy this one.
-- Dr. Jon Suter
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