Diagram For Delinquents – Four Color Commentary

Diagram For Delinquents

Four Color Commentary

When it comes to his role in the development of the Comics Code Authority, I’ve long believed that Dr. Fredric Wertham received far too much criticism from fans and historians, alike. This is due to no profound insight on my part, but only an educated grasp of some of what was available to children on comics racks in the period from the late 1940’s to the early 1950’s. Now, a new documentary has not only made me even less antagonistic toward Wertham, it has actually birthed new admiration for the man and a more distinct understanding of his motivations.
Diagram for Delinquents, by Robert A. Emmons, Jr., stands to set the record straight on precisely who Wertham was, and exactly why he deserves fresh consideration, not only from comics fans, but people in general. I feel fairly safe in stating that, despite some of Wertham’s mistaken views and blanket condemnation of an entire medium, viewers should plan to have their opinions of him challenged upon viewing Emmon’s work.
Unless you are already an expert on Dr. Wertham, you are sure to learn more about him. You may actually gain respect for the man as a researcher, compassionate doctor, and even one who, it could be argued, had a unique role in the civil rights movement. This will be accomplished by well-conducted in-depth interviews with those who are experts and authorities in several different fields, not just the world of comics. That, along with a wealth of photos and newsreels from the first half of the 20th Century, slick production work and, of course, many reproductions of Golden Age comic book covers and pages, makes Diagram for Delinquents a must-watch for all but the youngest fans of the comics medium.
Diagram for Delinquents addresses not only the history of comic books, but much weightier issues, as well, and does so in a highly professional and informative manner. Kudos to Emmons for crafting a project which has the potential to change some decades-long conceptions about one of the most controversial figures in the history of American pop culture.
Review by Mark Allen

Ghostopolis – Suspended Animation Review

Ghostopolis

Ghostopolis
Published by Graphix,
a division of Scholastic Inc.
266 pages, $12.99
Review by Mark Allen

It is difficult today to find comics works dealing with the darker side of the supernatural which do not employ a fair-to-massive amount of gore, or a fascination with the occult.  This could be due to the fact that comics have become much too focused on adults (and that the creators assume adult readers WANT such material).  Or, it may just be that most creators are not as talented as Doug TenNapel.

TenNapel’s graphic novel Ghostopolis puts the creator’s immense talent on display, presenting fortunate readers with an engaging story containing a dark, ominous tone, moments of cut-able eeriness as well as laugh-out-loud humor, frightening villains, and heroic protagonists who maintain their realistic feet of clay.  All of this is wrapped up in the big bow that is TenNapel’s wholly distinctive art style; you’ve probably never seen monsters and machines like these.
Furthermore, those who are familiar with TenNapel’s work may find the form itself to be his brand of inimitable material.  While the story is clearly reminiscent of the Ghost Buster movies, the presentation, the “twist” if you will, is truly unique.  TenNaple has given the fictional world of “ghost catching” a whole new dimension.  And it’s a fun place to hang out!

Perhaps best of all, by the end of Ghostopolis, characters are rounded out by the experience: fears are overcome, potentialities are realized, and each of their “worlds” are better for what they have endured.  TenNaple gives readers a sense of closure and contentment, both as individuals enjoying a great yarn, as well as taggers-along, living vicariously through his charming characters.

Contentment may escape the reader in one sense, however; after reading Ghostopolis, you may have a gnawing desire for more TenNapel work.  Well, it’s out there.  And it’s recommended for all but the youngest readers.

Find it at your local comics shop, comics conventions, or online retailers and auctions. But, try your local comics shop first.

Billy Tucci’s A Child is Born – Suspended Animation Review

A Child is Born

Billy Tucci’s A Child is Born
Published by Apostle Arts, LLC (2011)
32 pages, $5.99
Review by Mark Allen

Despite the controversy which some have managed to build around the holiday, Christmas remains an important, cherished time for most people world-wide.  And one story from which the season will never be divested (nor should it), is that of the birth of Jesus, the Christ.  Now, families who treasure that annual retelling can have one of the most beautiful representations of it I have ever seen.  Whether they are comics fans or not, I believe most would appreciate A Child is Born, by Billi Tucci.

Tucci, a well-known comics artist with an ultra-realistic style, does what may be his best work ever on this ancient, yet still-timely tale of the birth of a Savior who offers hope for all the world.  Everything associated with the account is here: Mary and Joseph, the magi, the shepherds, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, angels and even the threatened monarch, King Herod.  This 32-page offering seems as complete as any such limited version can be, and could potentially become a treasured part of the celebration of Christmas, especially for families with small children.

Paul Mounts provides interior colors for Tucci’s pencils and inks, and Mark Sparacio finished the cover.  Each have helped deliver a quality to this comics work which is equally akin to high-quality art one would expect in a fine gift store.  Those who enjoy the work of such artisans as Warner Sallman, Akiane Kramarik, Greg Olsen, Simon Dewey, etc. will find plenty to be amazed by within these pages.
Billy Tucci’s A Child is Born is recommended to anyone who relates to the Christmas message of potential hope, peace and joy for all.  It contains the reason that Christmas is more than just another holiday, and is therefore ALSO recommended to those who desperately seek those qualities in their own lives.  Find it at www.achildisbornbook.com, your local comics shop, conventions, or online retailers and auctions.

And, Merry Christmas.

Suspended Animation Review – The Outlaw Prince

The Outlaw Prince, published by Dark Horse Comics, 80 pages, $12.99.

            As in all media, there are works in comics which seem to elevate the potential of the form.  These are the stories that you read and then think, “Why can’t MORE comicbooks be like this?”  Here’s another occasion to ask yourself that question: a four-color tale called The Outlaw Prince.

            The first of a set of four volumes planned, Prince begins a retelling of The Outlaw of Torn, a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  If you have never read the novel, however, this graphic “cousin” will seem quite fresh to you, and that much more entertaining.

            As one who never read the source material, I cannot comment on the loyalty of writer Rob Hughes’ adaption.  However, I can say that the work does not “feel” like an abridged version, but rather boasts a sense of completeness, and a well-paced course of events.  It reads nothing like an adaption, and enjoys a feeling of originality.  That, along with engaging characters, possessing believable motivations, are all credit to Mr. Hughes’ talent as a writer.

            The visuals are provided by two men whose talents are known in and beyond the world of sequential art, and for good reason.  Michael Kaluta provides layouts, over which Thomas Yeates lavishes gorgeous pencil completions and ink work, turning out a product not unlike those considered the cream of the adventure strip era.  These facts alone would convince me that this is one of the best graphic works produced in 2011.  The colors provided by Yeates, Lori Almeida, Steve Oliff, and Gloria Vasquez make that opinion a conviction. 

            No work produced in the last year is more complimentary to the art form.  Find it at your local comics shop, online retailers or auctions, or the next convention you attend.  But, try your local comics shop, first.

            The Outlaw Prince is highly recommended for fans of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, enthusiasts of stories from the Middle Ages, or readers who just like a rip-roarin’ good yarn!

Review by Mark AllenThe Outlaw Prince

 

Justice League of America – Suspended Animation Review

Essential Fantastic Four Volume 5Justice League of America
Suspended Animation Review by
Mark Allen

In 1997, DC Comics’ Justice League of America rose to a status the property had not seen for several years, in a comics series entitled JLA.  The closest one could come to describing said status in one word might be “epic”.

Writer Grant Morrison and artist Howard Porter quickly became a fan-favorite combination, as they hit the ground running with a tale of alien super beings coming to earth to make it a utopia.  As they go about solving the world’s problems, their popularity with the masses increases, as the JLA begin to fade in the eyes of the public. Of course, as one would expect, this group of benevolent do-gooders is not all it’s cracked up to be. Things get larger-than-life from there.

The ambition of Morrison and Porter was evident from the beginning. They were not satisfied with just creating huge scenarios for the characters to be involved in, thus rising to the occasion.  Instead, they seemed to be tailoring the plots TO these heroes, who they already considered to be operating on a grand scale.  A great example of that would be an addition to the team roster early in the creators’ run: the angel Zauriel.  When the winged denizen of Heaven comes to earth, he’s pursued by an unfriendly angelic host.  Suffice it to say, the JLA does not shrink from the challenge. Like I said, “epic”.

Morrison’s plots were engaging from beginning to end, and his handling of the characters somehow managed to make them seem fresh, despite their long histories.  Combined with Porter’s realism-based artwork, the drama and scale of which have not been topped since, it produced reading and viewing material that is a must for any fan of superhero tales.
Issues 1 though 41 of JLA are recommended for teen and adult readers.  Several issues in that run were fill-ins, but also of high-quality. Find them at your local comics shop, and online retailers and auctions.  But, try your comics shop first.

Brian Kane’s Hal Foster

I was in my late twenties before I took a good look at Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, despite being a fan of comic books and strips since childhood.  Maybe it came with the passage of time, and further education in the art form of comics, but a deep appreciation for his work eventually materialized.  And then solidified.  Then, marked me for life.  That’s why I’m so thankful for Brian M. Kane, and his book Hal Foster: Prince of Illustrators, Father of the Adventure Strip.

A carefully assembled examination of the professional and personal aspects of Foster’s life, Kane’s work doesn’t simply present historical facts pertaining to the business end of Prince Valiant.  It also gives a tender look into the creator’s role as husband, father, and friend, and shares a bit about how who Foster was affected the work he did.

Besides giving visual detail as to how the artist changed the adventure strip landscape when he took over the Tarzan strip, the book contains plenty of Hal Foster’s work related to Prince Valiant, including promotional and personal illustrations, as well as some of the best examples from his work as a commercial illustrator.  Kane does a wonderful job of letting the quality of Foster’s work vouch for the superiority of his skill.

Additionally, readers are treated to many photographs from throughout Foster’s life, including those relating to family, friends, work, and leisure.

One of the facets of this book I found most interesting was the collection of testimonials of professionals from the world of comic strips and comic books, pertaining to what Foster’s work meant to them.  There is always something inspirational and even touching about hearing some of the best in the field reminisce about one of the “greats” of the same profession.  The respect, admiration and wonder expressed by peers can help fans understand exactly what kind of talent they are privy to.  This fan is grateful.

Brian Kane’s Hal Foster is recommended to anyone who appreciates great comics art, or simply great art.  It’s also recommended to everyone else, so they can LEARN to appreciate it.

Mark Allen

Brian Kane’s Hal Foster

Essential Fantastic Four Volume 5

Essential Fantastic Four Volume 5Essential Fantastic Four Volume 5
Suspended Animation Review by
Mark Allen
Published by Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc.
568 pages, $16.99

The last four installments of Suspended Animation have dealt heavily with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s breathtaking 1960s run on Marvel’s Fantastic Four.  And, while the remarkable quality of the legendary duo’s work was monumentally maintained in the fifth volume, a subject which cannot escape inspection is the passing of the artistic baton, first to stand-in artist John Romita, then to the second ongoing penciler in the book’s history, the renowned John Buscema.

Romita had the unenviable task of picking up where Kirby’s celebrated work ended.  Yet, it seems he made small effort to ape Kirby’s style.  To my mind, that’s a positive thing.  While many diehard Kirby fans, both then and now, might bemoan Romita making the characters his own during his four-issue stint, his work possessed an exclusive elegance, and he had long since proved his aptitude for high-voltage superhero action as the regular artist on The Amazing Spider-Man.

Many fans of great comics may have been perfectly satisfied with Romita at the artistic helm, but Marvel settled on John Buscema to carry the company’s First Family through the next few years.  Buscema’s style, though perhaps not as graceful as Romita’s, had a more rugged appeal.  An artist who it could be said produced some of the greatest action scenes in the industry, Buscema’s depiction of the conflict and combat that played such an enormous role in the series marked him as one of the few logical successors to Jack Kirby.  Additionally, the sense of realism found in his work seemed to mark the Fantastic Four’s graduation into a new era when compared with Kirby’s more distorted, though no less action-ready, style.

Besides offering the work of three of the best artists comics has ever seen, readers will also find the entertaining return of Dr. Doom, the Moleman, the Skrulls, the Frightful Four, and the Submariner, and even a guest appearance by Richard Nixon!

Essential Fantastic Four Volume 5 is recommended for all readers.  It can be obtained from online retailers and auctions, but try your local comics shop first, if you have one.

THE HANGED MAN – Suspended Animation Review

The Hanged Man #1

The Hanged Man #1

Published by Caliber Comics, 32 pages, $2.95.

Adam Cadman is a condemned man on his way to the gallows, long after the death sentence has been abolished on English soil. A cold-hearted man, with seemingly no redeeming qualities or value, fate has decreed that he meet his end dangling from a rope …or has it?

At the end of said rope is not what would be considered Heaven or Hell, but a realm called Mazeworld. Cadman, still donning the hood and noose of the condemned, is mistaken for “The Hooded One,” a missing hero of a group of rebels battling a tyrannical ruler. Here, Cadman will undergo a transformation; he will begin this adventure as a coward, and a fool, and emerge a hero of the oppressed. This is the premise of The Hanged Man, a two-issue series by Caliber Comics.

Writer Alan Grant draws the reader in by presenting the possibility that such an ignoble character could be changed for the better. In the story, Cadman is directly confronted with the terrible deeds he has committed, and even experiences a tightening of the noose around his neck when he is caught in betrayal, cowardice, or the like. As a result of his sins being ever before him, a part of Cadman begins to emerge that has long been buried, if it ever existed at all. Grant’s fine characterization is to be commended, as is the clever twist at the story’s end.

Artist Arthur Ranson’s work is amazing! I have never seen better, more realistic and detailed line work in any artist’s production, in comics. The book is black and white, and Ranson is a craftsman whose work is best viewed in this venue. Colorists often tend to take away much of the detail of such a project, even when they are very good.

The Hanged Man can be acquired through comic shops, or online retailers or auctions. For a comics shop near you, call 1-888-comic-book.

Review by Mark Allen

Review by Mark Allen

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