Suspended Animation

Michael Vance   Mark Allen   Michael Vance Books
The longest-running comics review column in America perhaps the World!

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Looking Back


     Marvel's "New Universe" of the mid-‘80s was hardly the most memorable undertaking in comic books. However, one good series did come out of that venture. Nearly forgotten today, Star Brand had a very simple premise.

      One day, unsuspecting human Ken Connell happens upon an alien who grants him an object of great power, the Star Brand. The alien dies (or so it seems), and Connell must decide how best to use this "weapon".

      The setting was not an alternate "Marvel" Universe, but a universe more, like ours, where "superheroes" are works of comic book fiction.

      Making Ken Connell's world a more realistic one results in a well-thought out comic. From the complications of attempting the rescue of a child from an old well, to deciding whether to reveal himself to the U.S. President, Connell's attempts to use his power wisely often results in intriguing, and very entertaining, situational reasoning.

      Great characterization is a hallmark of this series. Ken, while the series lead and hero, is no bastion of morality, and will occasionally annoy many readers with womanizing and whining about how to live up to his responsibility to use the Star Brand Power correctly.

      One of the most pleasing aspects of this comic is how much takes place in each issue. For those accustomed to many of today's first issues that do little more that introduce a main character, and, if the reader is fortunate, establish some motivation, the first issue of Star Brand my leave them thinking they have read material for two or three issues.

      Talent for the book is topnotch. Jim Shooter does what my be some of his best writing in issues 1-7, which are dramatically rendered by John Romita, Jr. Issues 8-10 lead into writer John Byrne's and artists Tom Palmer's run in which the story takes a vastly different direction.

      For my money, those first seven issues of Star Brand are some very entertaining reading, and well worth searching out.

      Review by Michael Vance

Comics Legend Don Martin  

      "Skwako," and another great master cartoonist is gone.

      Don Martin, Mad magazine's "maddest" artist, was born in Patterson, New Jersey in 1931. He initially sold humorous cartoons to magazines including Galaxy, and art for the covers of jazz record albums. His first national success came in 1956 when Al Feldstein, editor of Mad, made Martin's work an integral part of the counter-culture of the 1960s.

      For more than thirty years, Martin would create a horde of idiot misfits with multiple chins, feet hinged at the toes, and ape-like arms who stumbled through life on the hard end of the slapstick.

      His work was also known for its own unique vocabulary of sound effects. It was a rare page in which “Yarg”, "Shklip”, “Flot” or some wild, oddball and generally disgusting noise did not accompany someone being flattened, buzz-sawed or somehow mangled.

      Regrettably, in 1987, Martin left Mad over a dispute over the rights to his manic work. He continued his whacked humor in Cracked, an early imitation of Mad that had found its own style with time.

      Despite his outlandish and influential art, Martin was personally shy and suffered from a degenerative eye disease from much of his life. He died this year at age 68.

      Among Martin's thirteen paper and trade paperback collections and comic books were: Mad's Maddest Artist Don Martin Bounces Back. Don Martin's Droll Book (Dark Horse Comics), Mad's Don Martin Forges Ahead, Mad's Don Martin Drops 13 Stories, Mad's Don Martin Steps Out, The Mad Adventures of Capt. Klutz, Mad's Don Martin Carries On, Completely Mad Don Martin (1974).

      His work also included extensive contributions to Mad and Cracked, and his own Don Martin Magazine.

      Martin's brilliant and unique work is highly recommended for all ages.

      Review by Michael Vance

      Some older comics are expensive and difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are best sources. Prices vary; shop around. Questions? Comments? 


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