Suspended Animation

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

Review Index: 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998
Comics Legend: Jim Lange  

     Jim Lange has been the editorial cartoonist for the Daily Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City since 1950. That means folks outside of Oklahoma probably don't know Lange's work even though he's drawn more than 17,000 cartoons, and just about every one is a gem.

     In 1994, his newspaper published Lange, a 204 page sampling of more than 400 editorial cartoons. Those who buy it will come away with one clear insight into Lange's work. This gentle giant is able to firmly and quietly stand up for what he believes (and Lange is a conservative) without insulting those who disagree.

     He does so whether he is jabbing a United States President or some policy decision, ribbing a state official who is caught with his hand in the public's cookie jar, or grinning at the mundane foolishness of everyday life. Because he's done it for so long, readers will find 'ancient' fodder like Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon as well as the notorious up to 1994.

     And you'll recognize every one of them. Unlike a few editorial cartoonists, Lange is a master of caricature.

     You will also recognize yourself in John Q. Public, Lange's 'common man' dressed in a crumpled suit and sensible black shoes. Partially balding and sporting a bit of a brush of a mustache, he consistently wears a befuddled or amused expression as he observes the follies of life.

     Just like you.

     Lange's minimalist style also features a master's instinct on what is visually needed and not needed to make his point with each incredibly smooth and visually attractive line.

     His work is highly recommended, and if you send around $20 for his book to The Daily Oklahoman, P.O. Box 25125 Oklahoma City, OK 73125, you'll be $20 poorer but much more rich indeed. (The observant will notice this is the first time in sixteen years I've included information of where to buy a book. Take the hint).

     Review by Michael Vance

Marital Blitz  
     One of the joys of modern life is availability.

     When I was a lad, one ogled a TV show once, movies were only seen at movie theaters (and occasionally as reruns on TV), comic books and magazines were rarely reprinted, and old books, magazines, toys and music were difficult to find. Fans of such things haunted used book stores, junk shops, and garage sales.

     Now the Internet and auction sites have joined our old haunts as marketplaces for the lost, discarded loves of our cluttered, pack-rat lives! What bliss! With patience, you can find almost anything on auction sites, including Marital Blitz.

     And find it you should.

     In the '50s, magazine titles were plentiful and full of single-panel ('gag") cartoons. These cartoons were so popular that original paperbacks by their creators were not unusual. Marital Blitz which I found on the auction site EBay, is one of those with a difference.

     It is really funny.

     How could it not be funny and be about the five stages of marriage: Bride and Groom, Newlyweds, Young Marrieds, Proud Parents, and Old Marrieds [sic, The Living Dead, ed.]

     It creates funny by contrasting a banal statement about marriage with a drawing of marital truth.

     Statement: Courtship, if it is to enhance the chances for successful marriage, should be spent in determining to what extent the couple has a community of interests. Drawing: a cop shining his flashlight through a window at a couple making out in a car. The artwork is minimalist; the Berenstain's became famous for the Berenstain Bears. The humor is not carnal, although sex is a subject. And my wife who only reads comic strips in newspaper laughed out loud.

     There were hundreds of similar paperbacks published in the '40s, '50s, 60's and 70s. Go get one.

     This whimsical paperback is highly recommended.

     Marital Blitz by Stanley and Janice Berenstain, published by First Edition, 1955 paperback, 192 pages, original price: 25 cents.

     Review by Michael Vance

Jezebel Jade  

     One of my all-time-favorite comic book stories is Jezebel Jade. If you recognize the name, then you've probably seen at least one of the only two Johnny Quest episodes in which she appeared. And, I'm talking about the original '60's series, not the one produced in the '90's.

In this three-issue miniseries, produced by Comico in 1988, Jade is a professional thief who, after a near-bungled burglary, impersonates a mysterious woman dubbed "The Witch of The East," and, as a result, unwittingly gets involved in a case with a young American government agent named Race Bannon. From that moment, the story comes hard and fast.

     Writer William Messner-Loebs pens a wonderfully engrossing tale that holds the reader from beginning to end. He adds a great deal of complexity to an otherwise-underused character in Jade, and even manages to give insights into a young Bannon that 26 episodes of the initial JQ series did not. Loebs also creates great character interaction between the two, as the tension they feel toward each other is as strong as the attraction.

     The artist for the series is well-known fan favorite, now exclusive to D.C. Comics, Adam Kubert. Son of artistic legend Joe Kubert, Adam's talent is extremely evident in this, one of his earliest endeavors. His knack for action sequences, as well as humor and more subdued scenes of romance, would do any artist proud.

     And, while his early work shows a marked influence of his father's style, there are also plenty of instances of stand-alone artistic brilliance that is pure "Adam." This truly is a series that's as fun to look at as it is to read.

     Jezebel Jade, while not recommended for the youngest of readers, is definitely suggested for everyone else, especially if you enjoyed Johnny Quest as a kid, or even now as an adult. I know I do! Back issue prices vary, so shop your local comic book retailer, as well as online retailers and auctions.

     Jezebel Jade, published by Comico Comic Company, 32 pages.

     Review by Mark Allen

Fantastic Four: Imaginauts  

     Well, the public has spoken on the Fantastic Four movie; they liked it a lot. This gives me actual cause to review a super hero title, which we try not to do too much in the Suspended Animation column, due to the desire to help defeat the notion that comics are exclusively about super powered adventurers. However, the F.F. movie is yet another cinematic success story which illustrates an undeniable truth; done well, and taken in controlled doses, super hero-type fiction can be fun for all ages. The same truth holds for Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four trade paperback, Imaginauts.

     Mark Waid is a long-time comic book writer with a lot of imagination (no pun intended). With many erstwhile entertainment accomplishments under his belt, Imaginauts is another giant notch. Waid accomplishes a fresh take on the team, and actually manages to tell stories which haven't been told before. In fact (gush alert), a seeming wellspring of innovation, he tells the story of Reed Richards (leader of the F.F.) and his "mathematical equivalent" which is unlike anything I've ever seen in ANY entertainment venue. So, to be clear, we're talking about something which is derivative of nothing you've seen in television or movies. Is that enough incentive enough for you?

     Well, if not, consider the substantial contribution of artists Mike Wieringo and Mark Buckingham, who manage to give the characters a quality of life that is highly-expressive and amazingly dynamic. The afore-mentioned freshness of the characters even extends visually, when rendered upon the canvas of Waid's original stories.

     So, what does this mean to the person who has seldom or never read an F.F. comic book, but loved the movie? It means you can start with Imaginauts, and never have to look back over 40 years of continuity. What a relief, huh?

     Fantastic Four: Imaginauts is recommended for all readers who love action, adventure and no-strings fun! It's available at your local comics shop, or online retailers and auctions.

     Fantastic Four: Imaginauts, published by Marvel Comics, 192 pages, $17.99.

     Review by Mark Allen


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