Suspended Animation
Suspended Animation
by Michael Vance & Dr. Jon Suter

Check-out Michael Vance Comic books for sale


October 14, 1998

Reviews in this issue:

Still Weird
Black Cross: Dirty Work
Marvel's Flashback Series
Marvel's Thunderbolts and Ka-Zar
A Jew in Communist Prague
Starship Troopers
Comics Legend Joe Kubert
All In Color for a Dime


Still Weird

    Gahan Wilson is like a box of chocolates. Wait long enough and you'll get maggots and spiders.

    That's because cartoonists Wilson, Chas Addams (The Addams Family) and Gary Larson (The Far Side), are masters of macabre humor.

    Macabre what?

    Macabre humor means not ha ha funny, but maliciously he he he funny.

    Like the hunter who stands with smoking rifle as his bird dog fetches the corpse of the witch the hunter has just shot.  Her broomstick lies somewhere behind her and the hound's bloody paw prints.

    He he he.

    Like the polite tea party on the porch where benign Harry sits covered with spiders as his wife explains, "Spiders just can't resist Harry!"  

    See.  Spiders already, and you're just on page twelve.

    He he...well, you get the idea.

    Macabre humor is all about weird ideas, and no one is more weird than Gahan Wilson.

    True, Chas Addams' work is darker and Gary Larson's lighter.   So Wilson must be middle-of-the- road weird, like road kill.

    These cartoons have appeared in Playboy, The New Yorker, Weird Tales and The National Lampoon.  Wilson has also illustrated children's books (The Bang Bang Family) and Harry, the Fat Bear Spy adventures.  Wilson has even written horror he he short stories.

    Still Weird offers lots of bizarre cartoons, and one hundred are new ones never before reprinted.

    Or resurrected, which seems more appropriate.

    Still Weird is highly recommended even if you, like I, are cheap...he he he) and wait to buy it from the bargain table.

    Gahan Wilson's Still Weird, 286 pgs., published at $13.95, remainder at $4.98, by Forge, sold at major book stores.

Black Cross: Dirty Work

981014a.jpg (22691 bytes)     Black Cross is a predator in a world where the strongest survive by butchering the weak.

    Excellent art, story and dialog raise his violent, selfish and ultimately suicidal tale to a high artistic level.   If you can accept art and ignore gore, filthy language and fatalism, this is among the best of its genre.

    Reviewed by Michael Vance

Marvel's Flashback Series

    The first issues of Marvel's Flashback series are out, and some are surprisingly good.  Each story takes place before the first issue of the original titles they are based on, even though some of those titles are thirty or more years old.

    There is wide variance in the quality of art and storytelling. In Amazing Spider-Man, Tom DeFalco's story and Joe Bennett's art give a credible story of a young Peter Parker's discovery of his Uncle Ben's Golden Age comics. Young Peter dreams of becoming a Captain America-type of hero. This segment is lighthearted and fore shadows Peter's responsibility for his uncle's death.

    Far darker is the depiction of the rise of the villain, Kingpin.

    Other nice touches include the hiring of reporter Joe Robertson by Pete's future boss, editor J. Jonah Jameson, and, best of all, a brief appearance by the amnesiac Submariner.

    The art is influenced by John Buscema. The cover is a tribute to artist Steve Ditko.

    Also interesting are X-Men and Uncanny X-Men.  

    The first again explores the early friendship of the X-Men's mentor, Professor Xavier, and villain, Magneto.  A new element is the appearance of very youthful superheroes, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.

    The second delves into the origin of the Sentinels group and illustrates just how complicated time travelers have made this series.

    Cable is not as good as the two above stories, but is much better than X-Factor.  Jeff Matsuda's cartoonish depiction of the young superhero, Havoc, is irritating.  Howard Mackle's plot is easy to overlook because of the art.

    I concede that Matsuda is showing events from a child's perspective, but it doesn't work.

    The depiction of Stan Lee in the opening pages is beyond caricature.

    Similar to Flashbacks is The Unknown World of Captain Marvel.  This three-issue series explains just how characters Mar-vell Yon-Rogg and Medic Una came together just before their ill-fated expedition to Earth.  The influence of artist Jack Kirby and popular sf films such as 2001, Star Wars and Aliens is seen throughout.

    -- Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter

Marvel's Thunderbolts and Ka-Zar

    Marvel has had its share of problems in recent months, but there is still same creativity in Stan Lee's "House of Ideas."

    One of the more interesting titles these days is Thunderbolts.   Written by Kurt Busich and drawn by Mark Bagley, the first three issues am worth obtaining.

    At first, the Thunderbolts appear to be a new group of heroes seeking to replace the Fantastic Four or Avengers who disappeared in Marvel's "Onslaught" storyline.  In the first issue, readers may suspect briefly that the new heroes are actually the old heroes with new names and costumes.  The ending of that issue came as a surprise to this reader who remembers the shock of Avengers No. 16 when erstwhile villains such as Hawkeye became fledgling heroes.  Most of the Thunderbolts, however, seem beyond rehabilitation.  Audacity makes this a title to watch.  Will these villains become heroes or ate they playing hero for some darker purpose.

    There is strong linkage to other Marvel characters as well. The Black Widow appears as a potential enemy since she seeks to uphold the purpose and reputation of her vanished Avenger colleagues.  The Fantastic Four's abandoned headquarters has been turned over to the Thunderbolts by a grateful city. 

    If Busich and Bagley can maintain a high level of quality, this could become a major title.

    Less impressive is Mark Waid and Andy Kubert's Ka-Zar, Marvel's version of Tarzan.

    The stories are reasonably good and may get better, but this character and storyline seem exhausted.

    The first three issues involve the kidnapping of Ka-Zar's infant son.  The revelation in the third issue that the villain is Ka-Zar' brother is about as surprising as an attack by Dr. Doom on the Fantastic Four. 

    This series will have to get much better if it is to survive.   Moving Ka-Zar and his wife, Shanna, to New York may help temporarily, but jungle heroes do not work well in cities.

    Collectors may want to compare Andy Kubert's fine art to his father Joe's version of Tarzan.

    -- Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter

A Jew in Communist Prague

    What is the stuff of daily life under a repressive government?

    A Jew in Communist Prague: Loss of Innocence is the first in a series on the life of Jonas Finkel, a thirteen year old boy growing up under communism.

    It is a "coming of age" tale in which Jonas' father is suddenly arrested late at night.  Sinking rapidly into poverty, Jonas' mother, Edith, sells everything they own, teaches French lessons, and finds Jonas a job running errands for a dressmaker.  Edith's attempts to discover why her husband was arrested, where he has been taken, and if he is alive are met with stony silence or blatant threats by government authorities.

    It is a chilling, disturbing story because the destruction of Jonas' family is subtle and routine.  It is an exceptional story because each character is explored with insight into their strengths and weaknesses as human beings.  The dialogue is realistic and powerful as well.

    It is an adult story because of its insightfullness, not because it is rife with sex.  Jonas' first clumsy sexual experience is anything but titillating.  

    It is also exceptional because of its powerful art.  Artist Giardino is especially talented at capturing the variety in human anatomy, faces, expressions, and body language.  He is meticulous with buildings and the entire setting of his story.

    Why mince words. He is a brilliant artist and writer.

    Each following volume will chronicle pivotal events in Finkel's life as a racial minority detested by communist bureaucrats.

    Buy them all.

    This series illustrates the overall high level of intelligent storytelling in NBM's ComicsLit imprint.

    A Jew in Communist Prague is highly recommended for adults.   It does contain brief nudity.

    A Jew In Communist Prague, 48 pgs., $11.95, NBM Publishing, by Vittorio Giardino, available at comic and book stores and by mail.

Starship Troopers

981014b.jpg (18124 bytes)      Starship Troopers #1 [Dark Horse] is heavily influenced by the Alien movies.  Not much happens in the first issue of this well-drawn but padded sf miniseries.  Do we need eleven pages of ship rigging?

     -- Reviewed by Michael Vance

Comics Legend Joe Kubert

    Joe Kubert is a Renaissance Man of comics, having worked as a penciller, inker, editor, writer and publisher in a career than spans more than sixty years.

    His career began in the Chesler Shop in 1939, churning out assembly-line work with other young artists and writers for new publishers often out to make a quick buck in a new industry. But Kubert would be among the serious artists and writers who would turn a publishing fad into an artform.

    Almost from the beginning, Kubert left the predominantly cartoonish, "big foot" art of early titles for a near realistic portrayal of the world. Heavily influenced by other realistic comic strip artists including Hal Foster, Alex Raymond and Mart Meskin, he became one of the most critically acclaimed artists in comic books.  In particular, Kubert brought a high level of drama, realistic human anatomy, and an epic visual sweep to his work whether he was drawing a superhero with gigantic wings or a German World War I pilot.

    His greatest influence may have come from creating a school for comic book and strip artists and writers that he still heads today.

    Kubert's comic book work includes: "Black Witch" (MLJ, 1942-'43), "Pantom Lady" (Quality, '42-'43), "Volton" (Holyoke, 1942- '43), "Johnny Quick" Hawkman, "Dr. Fate," Rip Hunter, Sgt. Rock, Cave Carson, Tarzan, Enemy Ace and many more (DC, 1943-'?), "Black Cat" (Harvey, 1943-'48), Tor, Mighty Mouse 3-D [the fust 3-D comic book], 3 Stooges and Son of Sinbad (St. John, 1950-'55), fax from sarajevo (Dark Horse) and many other titles and characters for publishers like Interfaith, Fiction House, Avon, DC, Marvel and Gleason.

    Kubert also inked The Spirit comic strip in 1943 and 1944, and drew the Green Berets strip (1966- '67).

    The work of Joe Kuben 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

All In Color for a Dime

    After nearly a quarter-century, one of the most important works on the history of comic books is back in print.

    The first edition of Dick Lupoff and Don Thompson's All In Color for a Dime (Arlington House, 1970) has been unavailable for years; the Ace paperback reprint was on such poor paper that intact copies are impossible to find.   The new edition (Krause Publications, 1997) has some useful new material and sells for $14.95.

    This is an essential acquisition. I remember vividly the day I stumbled upon the first edition in 1970, a time when comic book collecting was not a respectable hobby. 

    The bright blue and yellow dust jacket was as garish and eyecatching as any comic book.  The bookstore in an Indiana shopping mall had only one copy, and the clerk wrinkled her nose when I placed it on the counter.

    For the first time, comic book fans had penetrated the world of mainstream publishing.

    Other writers such as Lancelot Hogben and Frederick Wertham had been less than fond of comic books and few voices other than Jules Feiffer in defense of comics had emerged.

    Lupoff and Thompson's collection of eleven essays by comics fans changed that forever.

    I was particularly impressed by Bill Blackbeard's essay on Popeye, "The First (Arf, Arf) Superhero of Them All."  I had never grasped that Elzie Segat's cantankerous sailor was something more than the version in the animated cartoons.  Roy Thomas's essay on Fawcett's line of super heroes is also illuminating.

    Many of the writers in this collection have become major writers of comic books as well as historians and critics.  Others have found different enthusiasms.  Some of the 'Facts" in the original essays are now laughably wrong, e.g. the price of a copy of Marvel Comics no. 1, but the enthusiasm in the essays is as contagious as ever.

    The preface implies that Krause may reissue The Comic-Book Book and a previously unpublished volume planned by Lupoff and Thompson.

    Let it be so.

    -- Dr. Jon Suter


    Questions? Comments? A comic you wish reviewed? Write: 1427 S. Delaware Ave., Tulsa, OK, 74104. Or email c/o starland@starland.com.

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