Category Archives: Comics

Off the Spinner Rack: January 1985

Lately I’ve been looking back on the comic book runs that hooked me during the 1980s.  Back then my brother and I would visit our local comic shop every Saturday and plunk down a few bucks for the latest issues of The Uncanny X-Men, The Fantastic Four and Thor among other (mainly) Marvel titles (by the mid-80’s there would also be a few independent titles in the mix).  I recently opened up the old box o’comics and wondered how many comics I would have bought on a month to month basis during my prime years of collecting.

I recently discovered the fantastic Newsstand Time Machine at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, a comic book database that allows visitors to search for the titles that were on sale during a particular month and year.  I figured I would use my usual 30 year benchmark to look back, and I was able to track down our exact comic book purchases for January 1985:

Alien Legion 6 Cover
Alien Legion
#6

Alpha Flight 21 Cover Alpha Flight 22 Cover
Alpha Flight #21 and #22

Doctor Strange 70 Cover
Doctor Strange #70


Fantastic Four #277

Groo The Wanderer 2 CoverGroo The Wanderer 3 Cover
Groo the Wanderer #2 and #3

New Mutants 27
The New Mutants #27

Thor 354 Cover
Thor #354

Uncanny X-Men 192 Cover
Uncanny X-Men #192

Void Indigo 2 Cover
Void Indigo #2

Looking back on this list, the titles we bought that month aren’t surprising.  At that point in our comic collecting we were primarily Marvel readers, with only sporadic purchases of DC titles.  Alpha Flight, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Four, Thor and The Uncanny X-Men were consistent favorites of ours for several years and would make up the bulk of our comic book collection.  Bill Sienkiewicz’s art got me hooked for a second time on The New Mutants, and Groo the Wanderer by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones would become a new favorite over the next twenty or so issues in 1985-1986.

Missed comics:

Cerebus 70 Cover
Cerebus
#70

Crisis On Infinite Earths 1
Crisis on Infinite Earths #1

Jon Sable Cover 24
Jon Sable Freelance #24

Dave Sim’s Cerebus and Mike Grell’s Jon Sable Freelance were also consistent purchases for us, but that month’s issues sold out at our local comic shop before we could buy them.  Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 was a flat out miss on our part and that’s one I regret not picking up back then.

January 1985’s purchases added up to a whopping $9.05 for ten comic books ($19.86 today adjusted for inflation).  The same number of comic books today would run me about $44.  In my opinion we got better art and more story/character development per issue for a fraction of the price back then, and it’s no coincidence that my comic book purchases over the last year or so have been mainly back issues.  Sure they cost a few bucks more nowadays, but I enjoy the feeling of nostalgia I get when I find a back issue from the 80’s that I missed the first time on the spinner rack.  In a way I’m glad we missed a few issues back then.

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The Captain America Project #18: Lee Weeks

The Captain America Project: 20 artists, 20 drawings of Captain America on one page.

#18: Lee Weeks (Daredevil, Gambit, Daredevil: Dark Nights)

One of my goals at the 2014 New York Comic Con was to wrap up the Captain America project.  With three spots left on the page, I had made my list of final “must have” artists to complete it.  My first stop at NYCC that Sunday morning was Lee Weeks’ table.

I’ve been a fan of Lee’s work for years and really enjoyed his three issue run on Daredevil: Dark Nights (#1-3).  He did a great job on this Cap sketch, and it’s a fantastic addition to the page.

Captain America - Lee Weeks

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NYCC 2014: From Albuquerque to Artist Alley in Record Time

NYCC 2014 2

Since the first show in 2006, the New York Comic Con is the comic book related event that I look forward to the most each year.   I still can’t believe that only eight years ago it started as a one room event that took up a fraction of the Jacob Javits Center.  And while I tend to complain about the crowds in the exhibit hall each year, I am very happy that the show has grown in popularity into one of the premiere comic book conventions with an attendance (over 151,000 attendees) that has now surpassed the San Diego Comic Con.

I’ll admit I don’t take as full advantage of the show as most of the attendees do.  I don’t cosplay (though I am tempted to break out the stormtrooper armor each year), and I avoid the larger panels for the less crowded sessions, but that’s because I choose to maximize my time in Artist Alley to meet the creators that have written and drawn my favorite stories of the last four decades.  This year was no different but that was because I had less time at NYCC than previous years.  My faithful sidekick and I had set up a two week vacation in Arizona and New Mexico that overlapped the first three days of NYCC and I didn’t think I would be able to attend this year.  But when I found out we were flying the red eye from Albuquerque to JFK I knew that I could make the last day of the show.

While I may have missed New York Super Week and the first three days of NYCC, I made up for it by buying some comic related merchandise during our stop in Albuquerque.  First stop was the amazing Astro-Zombies comic shop where I got a great deal on copies of X-Men #90 and Fantastic Four #92.  I also found Days of Future Past HeroClix that sold out at my New York comic and game shops (Storm, Blob, Pyro and a Sentinel!).  If you’re ever in Albuquerque, I highly recommend a visit to Astro-Zombies.  They have a great selection of new and back issues and a friendly staff.  I also picked up a few Marvel Comics themed wall decorations at a local art store on sale.  Buying these items that I would have picked up at NYCC softened the blow of not attending the first three days (and probably saved me a few bucks!).  Heck, even the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta had a con feel with a huge crowd and members of the local chapter of the 501st Legion in attendance as the Darth Vader and Yoda hot air balloons ascended!

The 501st Legion at the 2014 Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (image copyright 2014 Fante's Inferno)

The 501st Legion at the 2014 Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (image copyright 2014 Fante’s Inferno)

ABQ 2

Stormtroopers prepare the crowd for Yoda at the 2014 Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Yoda prepares for liftoff at the 2014 Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Yoda prepares for liftoff at the 2014 Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

ABQ 3

Darth Vader gets ready for the mass ascension at the 2014 Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (image copyright 2014 Fante’s Inferno)

But no sooner than I had gotten home from JFK Sunday morning, I was pulling together every book I wanted autographed, my sketch book for commissions, and of course The Captain America Project to (hopefully) complete.  I arrived at the Javits Center around 9:15 that morning, and I was surprised to not see a crowd gathered in front.  But reality soon set in when I realized the thousands of attendees were lined up in the lower level of the convention center prior to the 10:00 start time.  Overall it was a good system, and even though I was towards the back of the line I made it into Artist Alley by about 10:15.  Thankfully most of the attendees were heading to the exhibit hall and Artist Alley was practically empty when I walked in.

My top priority at NYCC was completing the Captain America Project: a jam page of 20 drawings of Captain America by 20 different artists.  After four years, 17 of the 20 spots on my Captain America jam page had been filled by artists like Jim Lee, David Finch, Herb Trimpe and even Golden Age artist Allen Bellman.  I had put a lot of thought into which artists I wanted to finish the page, and even though there were more artists to choose from than spots available on the page, I decided they would be filled by three of my favorite artists of the last 30 years.  My first two stops were Lee Weeks’ and Bob McLeod’s tables.

Weeks’ art has been a favorite of mine over the last ten years, most recently his work on Daredevil: Dark Nights #1-3, and I’ve been a huge fan of Bob McLeod’s work since the early 80’s, particularly his run on The New Mutants.  So as long time fans of their work, they were “must haves” on The Captain America Project.  I had originally planned on posting scans of their Cap sketches in this post, but then I realized they would be major spoilers of their individual posts for The Captain America Project, so I decided to hold off.  But in the meantime, here are a couple of pictures of them sketching on the page:

NYCC 2014 4

Bob McLeod adds a Captain America sketch to the Captain America Project

NYCC 2014 3

Artist Lee Weeks adds a Captain America sketch to the Captain America Project.

Unfortunately, the third artist that I was hoping would cap off the page (pun intended) wasn’t able to attend Sunday, so I’ll keep that one a surprise until I’m able to get that sketch at a future show.

After collecting autographs from artists Rob Liefeld, Allen Bellman, Howard Chaykin and former Marvel writer/artist/editor Al Milgrom for my copy of Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, my last stop of the afternoon was The Artists’ Choice table for a sketch from artist Jerry Ordway (Superman).  Going into the show, one of the items on my wish list was a full sized sketch of Superman from Ordway, and he didn’t disappoint with this gem:

IMG_3072

Superman by Jerry Ordway

IMG_3071

Artist Jerry Ordway and his Superman sketch.

I had every intention of staying until the end of the show to hit the exhibit hall and get a few more sketches, but by 3:00 I realized that I hadn’t slept in over 30 hours (maybe that’s a con endurance record?) and it was time to head home before I passed out and the attendees swiped my sketches.  But this year’s NYCC was definitely worth the red eye flight and sleep deprivation.  Looking forward to next year!

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What If Phoenix Had Not Died? (1981)

What If 27 Cover

The early 80’s were my prime years of comic book collecting, and Marvel’s What If? was one of my favorite titles.  Each issue introduced by The Watcher would present an alternate history of Marvel characters based on one twist of fate in a previously established storyline.  There were some fantastic issues of What If? from 1981-1982, particularly What If Daredevil Became an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.? (#28, August 1981), What If Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk? (#31, February 1982), What If Elektra Had Lived? (#35, October 1982), and What If The Fantastic Four Had Not Gained Their Powers? (#36, December 1982).  I recently reached into the old box o’ comics and found one that stood out as one of my favorite issues of What If’s early 80’s run, and a story that truly stood out for me that entire decade: What If Phoenix Had Not Died? (#27, July 1981) written by Mary Jo Duffy with art by penciller Jerry Bingham and inker John Stuart.

We bought our copy of What If? #27 new off of the spinner rack at our comic shop back in 1981.  Frank Miller’s dynamic cover stood out among most other comics released that month, with his bold line work and the intense colors capturing Phoenix’s power while flanked by the helpless X-Men.

One of the reasons this story resonated with me was  because less than a year earlier Jean Grey/Phoenix was killed off in Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin’s classic X-Men #137 (Vol. 1, Sept. 1980).  As I read that issue for the first time back in 1980, I held up hope that the X-Men would prevail in their battle with the Imperial Guard.  But as their epic battle ended with each member of the X-Men taken down in defeat, Jean’s death was even more shocking.  At that young of an age, I couldn’t understand how the folks at Marvel could have ended the story with the X-Men losing and a main character actually dying.  The only other comic book story to have that big of an impact on me was the death of Elektra in Daredevil #181 (April 1982), but unfortunately as I got older I became more jaded and skeptical with every Marvel character’s death and subsequent return.  That story in X-Men #137 got me more emotionally involved as a reader and fan of the X-Men, as Cyclops and the rest of the team came to terms with Jean’s death and dealt with their own issues as the decade went on.  To this day, I consider the Death of Phoenix one of my favorite comic book stories of all time and one of the greatest in Marvel’s history.  So when What If Phoenix Had Not Died? was published the following year in 1981, it was one of the stories I had to read.  X-Men was my favorite title and I was eager to find out what would have happened to them in this alternate history.

What If 27 Page 1

What If Phoenix Had Not Died? begins with The Watcher providing a recap of Jean Grey’s history in the original X-Men storyline (her transition from Marvel Girl to Phoenix, mind control under Mastermind and her time as the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, the destruction of the star D’Bari leading to the deaths of 5 billion humanoids, and the X-Men’s fight with Lilandra’s Imperial Guard leading to her death).  Six pages in, the story takes an alternate turn when toward the end of their battle with the Imperial Guard Jean saves Cyclops from a blast and alters her destiny.  Jean and the defeated X-Men are taken to the Shi’Ar imperial flagship, and their psychic lobotomizer removes her telepathic powers.

What If 27 Page 6

What If 27 Page 7

Upon their return to Professor Xavier’s School, a now powerless Jean tries to adapt to her diminished role within the X-Men.  A distress call from Lilandra leads them to a showdown with Galactus and his herald Terrax.  The X-Men, led by Cyclops are on the verge of defeat against Terrax when the Phoenix force re-manifests itself in Jean and a blast of her power relegates Terrax to a powerless human form.  Galactus backs off and the old Phoenix is back.  But eventually the temptations of the Phoenix force get the best of Jean, and the story takes a darker turn.

What If 27 Page 28

No spoilers here.  Writer Mary Jo Duffy (Power Man and Iron Fist, Star Wars, Wolverine) and artist Jerry Bingham (Iron Man, Marvel Two In One) pack a lot of drama and action into What If Phoenix Had Not Died?: Jean’s emotional roller coaster as a result of her transition from mutant to human, the temptations of the Phoenix force when her powers return, and the ensuing consequences of the darkness that consumes her.  At a whopping 34 pages, this qualifies as an event and it doesn’t disappoint.  Even as a “done in one” single issue story, the shocking fate of the X-Men is darker than most other stories of that era and stays with the reader long after the last panel.

Nowadays our copy of What If? #27 has a worn cover and the middle pages are separating from the spine, which is a testament to how much we enjoyed this story.  Ten or twenty years ago I would have kicked myself for not bagging and boarding it, but the current condition brings out the nostalgia even more.  Turning through the pages the other night reminded me of quite a few lazy days at age 8 sitting on the living room floor reading and re-reading this issue, and brought back the same excitement and emotion as it did the first time I read it in 1981.

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Thoughts on Marvel Studios’ 2017-2019 Releases

With Marvel Studios’ July 18th announcement of their 2017-2019 movie release dates, speculation has begun over which Marvel characters will have their movie projects greenlit as Phase 2 moves into Phase 3.  The last two years I hoped that characters like Doctor Strange, Daredevil and Luke Cage would get their shot on the big screen, and with Netflix’s upcoming production of five Marvel original series (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, The Defenders) and the Doctor Strange Easter Egg in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, slowly but surely my favorite characters will get their TV or cinematic due.

So with over 5,000 characters in the Marvel Universe, will Marvel Studios fill the majority of their TBD slots with the more popular characters, or go the Guardians of the Galaxy route with the lesser known heroes/super teams?  Here’s my latest wish list for the 2017-2019 Marvel Studios slate:

Alien Legion

Alien Legion Cover

When Marvel’s creator owned line Epic Comics published Alien Legion #1 in 1984 (written by Carl Potts and Alan Zelenetz with art by Frank Cirocco and Terry Austin), this diverse group of “footsloggers and soldiers of fortune,” a Foreign Legion set in space, got me hooked.  I was fortunate to find a page of original art from Alien Legion #4, and it’s a prized piece in my art collection.  Hopefully this title will get the movie treatment.

Micronauts

Micronauts 3 Cover

Another title I enjoyed during it’s early run and that I’ve come to appreciate even more 30 plus years later.  Based on a line of toys from the 70’s, Marvel Comics published the first volume of comics until the mid-80’s.  I recently re-read the first five issues written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Michael Golden and couldn’t stop thinking about how well it would translate on film.  J.J. Abrams is attached to a feature film adaptation with Paramount, but the screenwriters have said the film version would be different from the comic book.  (sigh)

Howard the Duck

Howard The Duck Cover

Hear me out on this one.  Even though those of us over a certain age still cringe at the memory of the terrible  Howard the Duck film produced by George Lucas in 1986, Howard still deserves a reboot based on a great comic book run.  News on Howard the Duck’s cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy is a great first step in that direction (is Marvel Studios testing the waters with audience response a la the Doctor Strange reference in Winter Soldier?).  Advances in CGI aside, the time is right to revisit Steve Gerber and Val Mayerick’s creation on film and hopefully it will be more in line with the original comic book.

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A Day at Special Edition: NYC

Special Edition NYC

On Saturday June 14th I had the opportunity to attend Reed Expo’s Special Edition: NYC at the Jacob Javitz Center.  Since its announcement earlier this year, I was looking forward to this event due to its smaller size than October’s New York Comic Con, and its greater focus on the comic book creators.

I arrived at the Javitz Center about a half hour after the doors opened Saturday morning, and at first I wondered if I was in the wrong venue.  There was no line to get into the convention center and it was almost completely empty.  The exhibit hall/Artist Alley was located in the North section of the convention center (Artist Alley at the last two NYCC’s) and while it was a smaller show in terms of space and overall attendance, there was still a good buzz and a good sized crowd for the room.  It was much more low key than NYCC and it gave attendees a better opportunity to meet and chat with the writers and artists in attendance.

Special Edition NYC show floor

Special Edition NYC - Ultron

First stop in Artist Alley was Jerry Ordway’s booth.  A sketch from Jerry was always high on my “must have” list, and I was fortunate enough to have Jerry add Superman to my sketch book.

Jerry Ordway - NY Special Edition

My priority at any comic convention is adding new sketches to my sketchbook, and one of the realities of this obsession is standing in line, sometimes for hours, just for the opportunity to meet or get an autograph/sketch from a favorite creator.  But  it’s always great to meet fellow comic fans on line and talk comics and comic art.  While on line for my Ordway sketch, a fellow attendee showed his latest ink:

Batfan Joe shows off his tattoo in progress of the Joker (front) and Batman (back).

Batfan Joe shows off his tattoo in progress of the Joker (front) and Batman (back).

Another highlight of the show for me was meeting writer/artist/editor and Alien Legion co-creator Carl Potts.  Alien Legion was a favorite comic of mine in the 80’s, and one of my favorite pieces of original comic art in my collection is a page from Alien Legion #4 written by Potts, and drawn by Frank Cirocco and Terry Austin).  I purchased a copy of his latest book The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics and was happy to hear that Titan Comics will relaunch Alien Legion with Alien Legion: Uncivil War #1 on June 25th.  Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the return of Jugger Grimrod, Torie Montroc and Sarigar!

NY Special Edition - Carl Potts

Some other pickups at the show included two hardcover copies of Marvel Masterworks, X-Men #122 and #123 by Claremont, Byrne and Austin, New Gods #4 by Kirby and Micronauts #2 by Mantlo and Golden.  The final highlight of the show for me was the opportunity to stop by the table of freelance artist and good friend Jose Molestina of Journey Studios.  In all Special Edition: NYC was a great time and I hope Reed Expo brings it back next year.

Jose Molestina of Journey Studios and his sketch of the Flash, the newest addition to my comic art collection.

Jose Molestina of Journey Studios and his sketch of the Flash, the newest addition to my comic art collection.

 

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75 Years of Batman

 

Detective_Comics_27

Sunday March 30th marked the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27.  National Periodicals (later to be DC Comics) introduced Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation to the world on that day in 1939, and eight decades later the Dark Knight is as popular as ever in comic books, film and television.

Batman was the first comic book hero that I was introduced to thanks to reruns of the 60’s television series starring Adam West.  This was several years before I bought my first comic book, and despite its campiness I still have a soft spot for the original series to this day.

In honor of The Dark Knight’s 75th birthday, here’s a list of my all time favorite representations of Batman:

Favorite Batman Artist:  Neal Adams

Detective Comics 400

Choosing my favorite Batman artist was a tough task for me considering how many incredible artists have drawn the Batman books over the years (Jerry Robinson, Sheldon Moldoff, Dick Sprang, Carmine Infantino and Jim Aparo, just to name a few).  But it was Neal Adams’ Batman that was my first introduction to the Dark Knight on the comic book page, and it’s his artwork that comes to mind when I think of the character.

Favorite Issue:  Batman Special #1 (1984)

Batman_Special_1

This story of Batman vs. The Wrath is one that stuck with me over the years.  Batman’s nemesis in this special issue was his complete antithesis even down to the death of his parents.  Great story by Mike W. Barr and art by Michael Golden and Mike DeCarlo.

Favorite Run:  Batman: Year One

Favorite Cover:  Detective Comics #69

Jerry Robinson’s cover for Detective Comics #69 just barely edges out Neal Adams’ cover for Detective Comics #400 as my favorite of all time.

Favorite Batman Film:  The Dark Knight

Favorite Televised Version of Batman:  Batman: The Animated Series

I was 20 and out of comics collecting when Batman: The Animated Series premiered on Fox in 1992.  I was expecting more of the campiness of the 1966 series, but was blown away by the noir tone and I was hooked.  (My favorite episode of the series: Beware the Gray Ghost, guest starring Adam West).

Here’s to another 75 years of Batman.

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Thoughts on the Guardians of the Galaxy Trailer

It’s been barely 24 hours since the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer was released and it has already topped 4 million views on YouTube.  I was surprised by the positive buzz over it in my office today, mostly from non-comic book readers (including one of my co-workers that admitted he’s never read a comic book in his life – you know who you are…).

When I first learned that Marvel Studios had green-lit Guardians of the Galaxy, my initial reactions were surprise and skepticism.  Considering the higher profile characters and super teams that have yet to get the big screen treatment (Doctor Strange, Black Panther), I was surprised Guardians was even on the cinematic radar.  I’ve only read a handful of GotG comics, so while I’m hopeful the film version of Guardians of the Galaxy will continue Marvel Studios’ current positive streak at the box office, I’m not as emotionally connected to the characters or canon as I would be to the Fantastic Four, Alpha Flight or even the New Mutants.

Before I even watched the Guardians trailer, I was convinced I wouldn’t like it.  Maybe a better choice of words would be that I was convinced there wouldn’t be enough in it to make me want to give the film a chance.  But I’ll admit, I liked what I saw though not without a few concerns.

Positives:

A solid cast: Bradley Cooper (Rocket Raccoon), Vin Diesel (Groot), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Benicio Del Toro (the Collector), Djimon Hounsou (Korath the Pursuer), Glenn Close (Commander Rael), John C. Reilly (Rhomann Dey)

The effects, production design and makeup/costumes show that Marvel Studios saw something in the Guardians of the Galaxy and didn’t skimp on the budget.

However:

The trailer doesn’t give any indication as to what the movie is about.  Maybe the “Who are these guys?” element of the trailer will drum up initial curiosity/interest in the film, but I can’t help but wonder what it might be lacking in plot.

The reliance on comedy in the trailer has me concerned that the studio is trying to make the film more “accessible” to a non-comic reading audience by having the film make fun of itself rather than creating a story true to the GotG canon.  Nothing irks me more than a comic book movie that gives a wink to the audience as if to say, “We know comics aren’t cool, but this is!”  Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord reminded me of Bill Pullman’s character Lone Starr in Spaceballs.

But in spite of my concerns, I’ll still hold out hope that Guardians of the Galaxy is a good film that both comic readers and non-comic book readers will enjoy, and that it will be successful enough at the box office to add more comic book films to the pipeline.

Guardians of the Galaxy opens in theaters August 1, 2014.

On a side note, BleedingCool.com posted this article on Rocket Raccoon co-creator Bill Mantlo.  A significant portion of my comic book collection growing up was written by Mantlo, with my favorite titles Micronauts, ROM: Spaceknight and Cloak & Dagger.  In 1992 Mantlo was the victim of a hit and run accident that caused a traumatic brain injury and he has required ongoing care ever since.  I made my donation tonight.  I hope this article will inspire other fans of his work to also make a contribution towards the cost of his care.

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Comic Book Review: World War Mob #1

World War Mob

Release Date 1/8/14

Written and Created by Vito Delsante; Art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo

Published by New Paradigm Studios

Currently available on Amazon; available on Comixology 1/29/14

When my brother and I started collecting comics back in the 70’s, our early collection included titles such as G.I. Combat, Sgt. Rock and Weird War Tales.  Those titles made up half of our comic book purchases each month, and we enjoyed them as much as any superhero comic back then.

It was around that time that we took our first family trip to Italy, which included a visit to the Abbey of Monte Cassino, one of the hard fought battlegrounds during the Italian campaign of World War II and a stone’s throw from our family’s hometown.  Over the years we’ve heard countless stories from our relatives who lived through the war in Italy during those years.

And so began our interest, if not obsession, with World War II.

In recent years I picked up as many war themed comics as I could find, but in my opinion there still weren’t enough.  Then I picked up a copy of Vito Delsante and Giancarlo Caracuzzo’s World War Mob #1 (of a four issue mini-series).  When I saw the cover  with Benito Mussolini in the crosshairs (by artist Mike Manomivibul), I was intrigued.  When I finished the first issue, I was hooked. 

World War Mob Page 1

World War Mob #1
Written by Vito Delsante; Art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo
Published by New Paradigm Studios

The story begins in New York City’s Lower East Side in 1932.  A teenage Vincenzo Di Greco works his way up from street gang leader  protecting his turf to footsoldier for mobster Lucky Luciano.  He’s got a heart of stone and isn’t afraid to shed blood when necessary, which makes him, in his own words, a good soldier.  Delsante’s words and dialogue bring out the fire in Di Greco’s heart, and artist Giancarlo Caracuzzo’s doesn’t hold back when representing Di Greco’s neighborhood and his bloody handywork in World War Mob’s beautifully drawn and watercolored pages.

World War Mob Panel

World War Mob #1
Written by Vito Delsante; Art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo
Published by New Paradigm Studios

Cut to December of 1944.  Di Greco, now a captain in the U.S. Army, leads a squad through the snow of the Ardennes against the German army.  He’s not afraid to “bring the fight to them” as his squad takes out a German gun post.  Two months later, while on leave for some R&R in Sicily, he’s handed a note that leads him to an empty bar and face to face with New York mobster Meyer Lansky flanked by two GI’s as his personal security detail.

World War Mob Panel B

World War Mob #1
Written by Vito Delsante; Art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo
Published by New Paradigm Studios

Lansky gets to the point: Lucky Luciano wants Benito Mussolini assassinated and he’s in Sicily to recruit Vincent.  As they speak, four other representatives of the Five Families have traveled to Europe to recruit the other soldiers that will take part in the mission, one from each family.  Vincent looks over the list of his fellow recruits and spots a name from his past: Victor Santi of the Mangano crime family.  They have a history, and now they’ll be forced to work together to assassinate il Duce against incredible odds.  They’ve been given their orders (kill Mussolini or don’t come home), but they have to figure out a plan on the fly.  Their first problem: they’ll need to go AWOL to carry out the mission.

Reviews of World War Mob will make their share of comparisons with mafia/war movie combinations like Goodfellas meets The Dirty Dozen or comparable movies of those genres, but those comparisons are unnecessary because World War Mob is a great comic book with a story that stands on its own.  My only disappointment is that World War Mob is a four issue mini-series and I wish it was ongoing.  Once I finished the last panel of the last page, I started counting the weeks to the next issue.  Can’t wait for issue #2.

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Superman: The Movie at 35

Superman The Movie - Poster

Release Date: December 11, 1978

Starring Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Valerie Perrine, Phyllis Thaxter, Trevor Howard

Directed by Richard Donner; Screenplay by Mario Puzo, David & Leslie Newman, Robert Benton and Tom Mankiewicz based on the character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

The original 1978 TV trailer:

35 years ago this month, Superman: The Movie premiered and the world believed a man could fly.

What better way for me to wind down the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) than with a post on Richard Donner’s beloved cinematic version of the Man of Steel that ushered in the age of the modern comic book movie?

The weekend of December 12, 1978 was a milestone in my movie-going life because as a six year old sitting in the audience of the Mamaroneck Playhouse (for what would be the first of my three screenings of the film that month), Superman: The Movie was the was the pinnacle of movie magic, and since then no other film has been able to move it from the top spot of my own personal Top 10 list.  To this day I still remember the details of that first screening: the large bucket of popcorn that I finished halfway through the trailers, the usher shining a flashlight in the face of a teenager that was talking too loud, and crowd brought to silence as the black and white shot of the curtains parting to reveal an issue of Action Comics opened the film.  What surprised me the most as I looked back on that day was how my brother and I (ages 9 and 6) and a bunch of our friends were there without parents.  It was a different time, one where our folks dropped us off in front of the movie theater and picked us up two hours later.  It’s funny/crazy/unbelievable to think about how normal that was back then.

While the last ten plus years have produced an explosion of comic book films and their sequels, Superman: The Movie is still the comic book movie I measure all others up against.  It doesn’t matter how much the special effects have surpassed the old school, non-CGI effects of Superman: The Movie because I don’t measure this era’s comic book films by the technology and effects, but rather on respect for the source material, character development and the story.

Superman: The Movie, under the direction of Richard Donner, got it right on many levels: the gravitas of Jor-El and Lara (played by Marlon Brando and Susannah York) sending their child to earth as their home planet Krypton faces destruction, the values instilled in a young Clark Kent (played by Jeff East) by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter), the playful charm of Reeve’s performance as Clark Kent/Superman…I could go on and on.  On the technical side, cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth did a masterful job photographing the film (sadly he passed away shortly after the production of Superman: The Movie), and production designer John Barry made Krypton and  the Fortress of Solitude as close to real as possible on the screen.  To this day I still think of Lex Luthor’s underground hideout whenever I walk through Grand Central Station.  John Williams’ score brings out the emotion in this film, and the music of the opening credit sequence gets me every time.

Producer Alexander Salkind was able to attach significant names to the production: actors Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman and Glenn Ford just to name a few.  A film based on a comic book could have simply been dismissed as a kid’s film by this level of talent, but each of their performances truly stand out in their contemporary take on the story of the Man of Steel.  But one area in which Salkind, Donner and the casting department took a huge gamble was with the casting of an unknown soap opera actor named Christopher Reeve in the title role.  When you read the list of names that were considered for Clark Kent/Superman (Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Muhammad Ali – just to name a few), it’s amazing the role didn’t go to an actor other than Reeve in order to use their name to boost the box office.  Despite their talent and star power, a higher profile (and extremely talented) actor from that list would not have brought the same dynamic to the role as Reeve.  In the film, the world was introduced to Superman, just as the audience was introduced to Christopher Reeve.  A better known actor would have been a distraction.  The film didn’t succeed in spite of Christopher Reeve, he was Superman.  Even as the “mild mannered reporter Clark Kent,” Reeve never plays his alter ego as a separate role but rather as Superman playing Clark Kent, down to his wry smile when he stops a mugger’s bullet from striking Lois Lane (played perfectly by Margot Kidder) but hides it from her by pretending he’d fainted.

Christopher Reeve Superman The Movie

Christopher Reeve in Superman: The Movie
Copyright 1978 Warner Bros.

Here’s a great clip of Christopher Reeve’s appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to promote Superman: The Movie’s release.  What I love about this clip is how it shows how Reeve’s incorporated his knowledge and respect for the source material into his interpretation of the title role.

I remember news reports shortly after the film’s release of children falling out of their apartment windows when they attempted to fly like Superman.  In an effort to curb further tragedy, Christopher Reeve made an appearance on a day time TV program (it may have been Midday with Bill Boggs), where Reeve explained it was movie make-believe and provided details of how he and Margot Kidder were hooked up to harnesses on wires for the flying scenes.  A crawl ran continuously on the bottom of the screen that read “You can’t fly, please don’t try.”

There was a lot going on during the production of the film, but just as much outside of the film’s production.  Several years earlier, Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, out of the comic book industry and making a meager salary as a postal worker, read about Warner Bros. plans to bring Superman to the big screen and wrote an open letter which stated that he and artist Joe Shuster were the true creators of Superman and the injustices he felt they received from National Periodicals/DC Comics.  A movement grew to have Warner Bros./DC Comics provide Jerry and Joe with a pension thanks to the efforts of several figures in the comic book industry, particularly Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson.  They were each given a $35,000 per year pension for the duration of their lives, and “Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster” was added to subsequent Superman comic book, film and TV properties.  Although Shuster was legally blind by the time of the film’s release, but both he and Siegel attended the premiere of Superman: The Movie.

Over the last ten years I’ve bought a few Superman: The Movie related materials, including some promotional posters that were given away as premiums in 1978, trading cards, and a copy of American Cinematographer devoted to the film  (one of my prized possessions).  As much as I loved the film, I never looked into the story behind the film’s production until I purchased the 2005 DVD which contains three “making of” featurettes that go into so much detail (including the troubles they had making it look as if a man could fly) that they should be required viewing for film students and any fan of filmmaking.  Warner Bros. has made them available for viewing on YouTube:

While there have been more than a few comic book films that I’ve truly enjoyed (X-Men, X2, The Dark Knight Rises), none have had as profound an effect on me as a movie fan as Superman: The Movie.  I’m grateful for this film because after countless screenings over the years, the magic hasn’t worn off and the film is just as meaningful to me as it was 35 years ago.

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