Sunday, July 12, 2015

Creepy Comic Book Ads

One of the best parts about reading old comic books are the advertisements.  I dug out an old Batman comic from the 1970s and was thoroughly enjoying the Dark Knight beating up some bad guys, but I have to say, I had forgotten about x-ray glasses and practical joke kits.  As a kid, I thought these were awesome!  As an adult... they are kind of weird and creepy.  Which make them entertaining for entirely different reasons. 

Creepy ads on the left, Batman on the right.  Perfect.


Hey parents!  If you think Superman and Batman are warping the minds of youngsters... check out the ad for counterfeit money printing.  Here we have what looks to be a completely-legitimate printing press that churns out legal tender.  Don't ask why the company is selling this state-of-the-art machine for $1.25, and why the business can't just print their own $1.25 is beyond me.  I guess that's why I am not running a successful mail-order business—but hey, their loss is little Johnny's gain. 

Secret Spy Scope

Ha ha, little Ritchie is growing up and learning about birds, bees and the right to privacy!  Hey, if the girl next door is sitting in her own backyard and trying to live her life, she is pretty much asking for trouble.  That is the type of message that buyers of the Secret Spy Scope are thinking as they wait for the mailman, patiently hoping that the federal government will drop off the device needed to look at boobies before the invention of the internet and cable TV. 

Skin Head Wig

My only complaint about this product is the marketing.  That is the best name that you can come up with, only 30 years after the end of World War II and right after the American Civil Rights marches?  

Raquel Welch Pillow

How does a kid ask his parents for this for Christmas?  I was going to take a better picture of the words in the ad, but then again, what's the point—if a teenage boy is buying a Raquel Welch pillow, I am pretty sure we all know why.  The most disturbing part of this is the part of the ad that says "Keep her for yourself or show her to your friends—liven up a party..."  Hey there Reggie, thank you so much for bringing the pillow to the house party!  Tell you what: let's throw it in the fire pit before any of our guests come into contact with it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


In 2014, Marvel announced that there was a new female Thor gracing the cover of the new Thor #1.  Great cover and a cool story whereby Thor (like, the regular dude) is no longer able to lift the hammer, so he's out.  Along comes mysterious lady and she can lift the hammer!  Yay, we have Thor again.

This is not the first time of course that Marvel has "switched gears" and brought in a new person to be the mainstay.  Back in my day, sounding like an old man, there was a time when almost all the Marvel heroes changed in some way.  That ancient era was the 1980s.  Let's take a look at some of the big-name heroes who got new looks, new identities, or some weird change happened.  Overall, it was pretty cool—as a kid reading the comic books, these heroes and villains now felt like "mine", rather than reading about some old 20 or 30-year-old story.

Black Suit Spider-Man
Appearing in Amazing Spider-Man #252 and Secret Wars #8, Spidey found an alien blob (or rather, the alien blob found him). Peter Parker wore the alien symbiotic suit for a few years, eventually losing it in Web of Spider-Man #1.  The suit got mad and turned into Venom in Amazing Spider-Man #300.  Love the black suit!


Captain America (Cap)
Steve Rogers got into a fight with the government over some shady dealings and said "hey man, I'm done".  Well, it was a little more complicated than that, but Rogers gave up being Captain America and a couple of new guys took over—meanwhile, Steve Rogers became "The Captain" and donned a cool black costume.  Wait a minute... cool black costume... I'm detecting a trend here.

Of course, Rogers eventually got the gig back and the other guy (John Walker) became U.S. Agent.  This is a great storyline that runs from Captain America #332 to #350. 

 Iron Man
There were a couple of changes in the 1980s with Iron Man.  First, they brought in James Rhodes to be Iron Man for a while, and Tony Stark kind of bumbled around for a while.  It was cool to have another guy be in the suit, because it shows that Iron Man is more than just a bunch of weapons—there is a guy making decisions in there. 

Iron Man then took on Iron Monger in a great storyline that formed the basis for the first Iron Man movie.  Iron Man has a history of changing his armor every 5 minutes it feels like, but this was the first time his changed colors since his original grey armor from the super old days.  

Incredible Hulk
In the very first issue of The Hulk, Bruce Banner turned grey.  In the second issue, he suddenly turned green.  He stayed green a long, long time, but then in the 1980s he turned grey again.  

 The Mighty Thor

In the 1980s, Thor got a buddy named Beta Ray Bill.  Man how I hope that Beta Ray Bill shows up in the movies, because he is awesome! 

Thor also was turned into a frog for a couple of issues, and this really encapsulates what made Thor a great titles in the 1980s under Walt Simonson - lots of twists, turns and fans truly did not know what was going to happen next.  These are great issues.

For some reason, Thor donned a mask and some full armor for a while in 1987.  I'm not sure why the mask was needed—it's not like he's Clark Kent working at the local newspaper or TV newsroom.  "This just in!  Thou dost wonder how greateth this news anchor is... and coming up next, the football scores."  Looks kind of cool I guess, but I like the original Thor uniform. 

Of course, all of these changes were undone and eventually we went back to the old standards—red & blue Spidey, classic thor, Steve Rogers as Captain America, and green Hulk.  I'm sure that lady Thor will disappear someday as well, but for now, we can at least ride out this storyline and enjoy the change for as long as it will last. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Spider-Man Mythology: Murky Missed Opportunities

One of my favorite super heroes is Spider-Man.  The Amazing Spider-Man comic book originated in 1963 and Stan Lee and Steve Ditko took a 15-year-old kid and made him a household name around the world within 5 years.  After Ditko left the book, the great artist John Romita showed up and put his stamp on it, giving Spider-Man the legendary look and feel that many still associate with Spidey today.

Ditko Spider-Man:
 Romita Spider-Man:

However, I am not here to rant about the artwork.  (I love both.)  I want to talk about changes—specifically characters dying.  Change is good in a comic book.  Eras change, years change, clothes and hairstyles change.  No one says "daddio" anymore.  Cell phones and iPads are in and derby hats are out.

A pivotal moment in Spider-Man's life happens with the death of long-time girlfriend Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man #121.  The Green Goblin kills Gwen Stacy and this changed the tone of the books—in fact, many comic book fans consider this the moment that silver-age books went from silver age to bronze age.

Issue #121 is my favorite comic book of all-time.  The very next issue, the Green Goblin is killed.  The Green Goblin is Harry Osborn's dad, Norman.  Harry Osborn just happens to be Peter Parker's best friend.  So in two issues, back to back, we have Peter lose his girlfriend and the father of his best friend—and he had a hand in both of those deaths.  Brilliant stuff.  I love it. 

Instead of Spider-Man just battling robots and guys in long underwear, he becomes "real" at this point—he suffers loss and grows up from a teenager to a man.  Fans like me see Spider-Man as a "real" person (from a writing perspective, anyway).  There are real-life consequences.  It also helped that Peter Parker graduated high school, and eventually university, and then also moved around and wound up having a relationship with Mary Jane Watson.  Things change, just like in real life.  Peter Parker was different than Archie Andrews for example, who is stuck in timeless Riverdale with Jughead for 60 years.

Another key person in Peter Parker's life is Aunt May.  Remember, uncle Ben died in the very first Spider-Man story (in Amazing Fantasy #15) because Peter Parker didn't stop the bad guy when he had the chance.  From a writing perspective, Aunt May is Peter's lifeline to that other world and many storylines involve Peter trying to keep his aunt safe.

Aunt May dies in Amazing Spider-Man issue #400.

  This is a great issue.  It came out in 1995.  I highly recommend it.  At the end, Aunt May reveals that she knows that Peter is Spider-Man.  The writing is terrific.  It has heart and feels "real".  This marks the first time since 1974 that someone major in Spider-Man's life (really major, not just a supporting character) died.  From Gwen Stacy / Green Goblin in 1974 to 1995—for about 20 years, no one died.  Yes, super villains came and went, and Spidey donned the black suit, and characters were introduced, and Peter Parker even got married to Mary Jane Watson.  But no one died.  Marvel characters were becoming such important money makers that it is inconceivable that you could kill off a main character.  Between 1974 and 1995, Marvel characters were becoming like Disney characters—you couldn't throw Goofy off of a bridge, no matter how much we all want to.

Marvel was stuck in the mid-1990s now, because it is really tough to keep coming up with new story ideas.  How many stories had Spidey been in so far?
  • 400 Amazing Spider-Man stories
  • 100+ Spectacular Spider-Man 
  • 100+ Web of Spider-Man
  • 100+ Marvel Team-Up
  • 50+ "Spider-Man" stories (the Todd McFarlane series)
  • literally hundreds upon hundreds of cameos, Secret Wars, Infinite Wars, cameos, etc. 
What else can you do with this guy?  As a writer, it must have been torture to show up to work everyday.  One idea was to have Spider-Man / Peter Parker retire, and his old clone (from waaaay back in Amazing Spider-Man #149) not actually be dead. 

This idea was presented in the mid-1990s, and his clone was suddenly alive, called Ben (after good ol' uncle Ben) and he was a clone of Peter Parker, physically identical but living a separate life from issue #149 onward (so from about 1975 onward, or about 20 years).

Marvel premiered Ben with his own look and feel, calling him the "Scarlet Spider".    

I actually thought this was a cool idea.  Here's a guy who is Peter Parker, but not Peter Parker.  He doesn't have feelings for Mary Jane.  He might still love Gwen Stacy.  But the new guy has all the powers of Spider-Man.  From a writing perspective, I thought this was a fresh and new idea.  He could tangle with villains like Venom who knew Spider-Man (Peter Parker), but the new Spider-Man (Ben) wouldn't know who Venom was.  New Spider-Man would have missed the whole 1980s (Hobgoblin, Kingpin, Secret Wars, black alien suit, etc).  Again from a writing perspective, this would have opened up the floodgates to have 400 new stories over the next 20 years.  

You could also occasionally follow Peter Parker, who would be married to Mary Jane and maybe even crank out a kid or two.  Peter Parker with mini spider-kids?  Of course, the kids would be mutants, and have powers, and the next 50 years of stories would be ready to roll.  Jane the spider-daughter!  Come on man, this stuff is writing itself!

Marvel killed this whole idea within a couple of years.  In 1996, barely two years into having started the whole "clone" storyline, Peter Parker returned, rescued Ben and regained his role as the "rightful" one true Spider-Man. 

Really?  Instead of a true reboot, Marvel killed the one true opportunity to have fresh storylines for the next 20 years.  Understandable, but still disappointing.  In an even worse twist of fate, Marvel exposed the following: the Green Goblin never really died.   Norman Osborn was really alive all this time!  Come on man. 

So issue #122 (one of the hallmark, great landmark issues in all of comics) was totally cheapened.  Marvel would do the same sort of thing over the next 20 years.  Changes that were undone: 
  • Aunt May didn't really die.  It was a "fake death" with someone just pretending to be Aunt May lying in the hospital bed.  Aunt May was still alive, even though she is like 200 years old and always on the brink of dying.  Come on man! 
  • Mephisto popped up and took away Peter Parker's and Mary Jane's wedding.  He stole their love and Peter Parker wakes up as an unmarried guy with no memory of what happened.  I hate it when that happens.  Come on man! 
  • Spider-Man and the new Green Goblin battled in Spectacular Spider-Man #200.  The new Green Goblin was Harry Osborn, taking up the mantle of the evil Green Goblin.  Harry died in 1993 in a battle for Mary Jane, eerily similar to the Gwen Stacy death, on top of a bridge.  Awesome story.  Nope, Marvel undid that as well.  Time is "turned back" in a future storyline and Harry is now still alive. 
Peter Parker wound up dying in Amazing Spider-Man #700.  Finally, the end of the great run arrived, warts and all.   Dr. Octopus, who is dying, winds up switching bodies with Peter Parker, so Parker dies and Otto Octavius is now in a healthy Peter Parker body.


Cool cover at least.  Anyway, this ended the original Amazing Spider-Man run. Fans were outraged again.  Peter Parker was dead?  For a couple of years, the Superior Spider-Man ran around, which was really Dr. Octopus' mind stuck inside Peter Parker's body.  Of course, Marvel undid that change as well.  Peter Parker is back!

So that leads us back to this: 


We're back to the beginning, with a brand-new Amazing Spider-Man (which debuted in 2014).  He's 28 years old and the origin story has been "retconned" (basically rewritten) to include other people like Cindy Moon (who is she?  New character.)  The spider also bit someone else, so we have a female Spider-person as well. 

I'm all for changing characters, but this is getting convoluted, complicated and quite frankly, hard to follow.  If changes are constantly undone, then what's the point in following any of it?  

I'm not railing against Marvel or Spider-Man.  I love the Spidey.  And Marvel's in a bind—they can't kill off or change Spider-Man in any meaningful way, because he is their big money maker. 

From a strict writing standpoint, here is what I would have liked to have seen: 
  • Gwen Stacy dies in Amazing Spider-Man #121.  Never comes back. 
  • Norman Osborn dies in Amazing Spider-Man #122.  Never comes back. 
  • The clone survives in Amazing Spider-Man #149.  He does come back. 
  • Aunt May dies in Amazing Spider-Man #400.  For real. 
  • Harry Osborn dies in Spectacular Spider-Man #200.  For real. 
  • Peter Parker really does die in Amazing Spider-Man #700.  Maybe he sacrifices himself of something, but he's dead for real.  Never comes back. 
  • Ben (the clone) is alive renames himself Peter Parker and separates from Mary Jane (since he's not really married to her).  This gives the fans a Spider-Man and also gives us new characters, as Ben can meet other people and have a circle of new characters in his life.
It's frustrating that fans say that they want change, but then when actual change happens, people flip out and demand the old status quo.

It will be interesting to see how Marvel handles the increasing weight of years of storylines for Spider-Man.  Does he stay 28 years old forever?  Do we go through all this stuff again?  Do they even acknowledge the stuff that has happened over the past 50 years?  If you aren't going to acknowledge it, why not give him a big, grand meaningful death and find a new Spider-Man?  His son?  Daughter?  Bueller, Bueller?

The nice thing about comic books is that fans can read the old stories and pick a "starting point" and an "ending point", and we can mentally discard the stuff that we don't want to worry about.  Plus, it's all made up anyway, so hopefully no one takes any of this stuff too seriously.  After all, we are talking about a guy wearing pajamas who is punching a guy who looks like a rhino, a goblin or an octopus.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, I would like to showcase a few old comics and a few new comics and just wonder aloud about why new comics just don't seem to look as good (in many but not ALL instances).

Comic books have been on the decline now for years.  If we take a look at the total paid circulation for one of the best-selling superhero books of all time, The Amazing Spider-Man, the sales from 1966 to 1969 averaged around 350,000 books per month.  In the 70s and 80s, the books popularly was still good, but average sales were around 280,000 per month. 

In 1997 to 2008, the average paid circulation was around 120,000 per month.  It's not even close to what it was.  Why is this?  By the way, the source for the sale data is found here:

One of the reasons is that many Marvel and DC Comics don't get listed for sale in what was normal channels when I was a kid (back in the 1970s and 1980s).  If you visit a 7-Eleven or your local supermarket, there aren't any comic books for sale, and if they are for sale, they are few and far between.

Prices have also skyrocketed - booked in the 1980s were anywhere from 25 cents to $1.00.  Double-sized issues were sometimes $1.50.  Nowadays, the minimum for a comic book is $3.99 US and some larger issues are $5.99 US!  Yikes that is a lot of money for 20 minutes' worth of entertaining.  

It's kind of sad because comic books were a big part of my youth and there are entire generations of kids growing up not reading anything—books, comics or anything.  Anyway, that is a separate rant.  I want to talk about the actual artwork.  In my opinion (and that is all this is, just one man's grumpy old opinion), the Bronze Age artwork is phenomenal.  The Bronze Age is generally accepted to be from 1970 to 1985.  Check out Jim Aparo's Batman:

The Detective Comics logo, the title at the bottom, just brilliant!

 Jim Aparo can make even Batman sitting at a desk talking on the phone exciting!

What I love about Batman's look in the 1970s is that he looks "real"—he is a human being, proportioned like an Olympic athlete, but still a human being, and is consistently drawn.  Fantastic.

Compare that to more modern comics, such as the cover to Batman #671:
While the artwork (the actual pencils) are pretty good, I am not a fan of the super-thin inking, the logo being almost completely covered, and especially the computerized coloring.  Again, this is just  personal preference.  This cover is actually pretty good.  But I like the old style better.  

Another example, this time the exact same artist old-versus-new: John Romita.  His work on Amazing Spider-Man is legendary.  Here are a couple of examples: 

And of course, the greatest Romita of all: 

Now let's compare the above examples to Amazing Spider-Man #600 (variant) which came out in 2009, about 35 years later: 

I think that J. Jonah Jameson looks, well, cartoony.  They all do.  Spidey looks like he's part of a Saturday-morning cartoon show or something.  Is it the coloring?  Is it the inking?  Is it Robbie Robertson no longer puffing on a pipe?  I don't know.  Again, this isn't a slam against John Romita—I LOOOOOVE John Romita's stuff.  I just think the modern-day artwork is not as good as the 1970s stuff.  

Artwork (and the production values) change over time, and also styles change—what is popular these days is not necessarily what was popular back in the 1970s.  I personally think that 1950s comic books don't have great artwork—there is a certain charm to a 1950s Batman comic, but I don't find it greatly appealing in any way.  

Maybe 40 years from now someone will be ranting about how their space comics are not as good as the 2015 comics from yesteryear.  Hopefully comics will still be around for that debate to take place!