I was first introduced to Mike Vosburg’s work through my love of Sax Rohmer. His wonderful artwork graced Master of Villainy, the 1972 biography of Rohmer by the author’s widow and Cay Van Ash. Later, I would discover Mike’s artwork also appeared in The Rohmer Review fanzine.
Many more years later, I was fortunate enough to have Mike provide the back cover illustration to my second Fu Manchu book. He also gave my daughter a gift of autographed copies of some of his professional work, which made her feel like the luckiest nine year old girl on the planet. I don’t claim to know the man well, but I adore his work and know him as a genuinely kind and generous artist.
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I had thousands of comic books when I was a kid (heck, I’ve got thousands of them now), but I never had a single Gold Key book — I avoided them like the plague. I didn’t like their painted covers; I didn’t like their series based on flop Irwin Allen TV shows like Land of the Giants and Time Tunnel; I didn’t like that Superman or Green Lantern were nowhere to be found in their stories.
I wheedled hard to get that twelve or fifteen cents (that’s what comic books cost in my day, Sonny), and was determined to be discriminating with it. Yes, even as a kid, I was a snob — a trash snob, but a snob.
Recently, however, in a spirit of scientific investigation, I picked up the first two Dark Horse paperback collections of Magnus Robot Fighter 4000 A.D. The books collect the first fourteen issues of Magnus that Gold Key published between 1963 and 1966. Dark Horse has done a superior job with these beautifully-produced volumes; in addition to the original stories, they feature appreciative introductions by Mike Royer and Steve Rude, samples of original concept art, and the covers that I so disliked as a kid.
Most importantly, the reproduction of the comic pages themselves is first-rate. The coloring is especially good; it’s clean and sharp without being overpoweringly bright, as some of DC’s Archive books have been. (The non-glossy paper used is a big plus in this regard.)
So the wrapping is nice — what about the present? Who the heck is this Magnus guy, anyway?
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When we last left our intrepid blogger (me) two weeks ago and four weeks ago, he was blogging (very roughly) about the superhero genre, pre- and post-Watchmen, and the kind of light that Alan Moore’s Watchmen shone onto superhero comics, as well as the core elements of the planetary romance form. I was setting up this conversation about what a Watchmen-like treatment of planetary romance would look like, both the pretty parts and the ugly ones.
This is a fun exercise and it’s quite possible that I’m way off in what I construct next, so if I am, please offer up your ideas, views, suggestions. Debate is good!
And, I’ve been ending on a cliffhanger, like any good pulp. So now, here’s Part III, What a Watchmen Treatment of Planetary Romance Might Look Like….
We’ll need a hero, a youngish white male paragon to travel to another world, because that’s the core of the form. And let’s have the aliens of this world be as close to humans as possible in physique and psychology, otherwise other assumptions become much harder to play with.
While Carson traveled to Venus, Carter to Barsoom, and Rogers to the future by themselves, we may need companions for the hero, like Flash Gordon did. And for later grist for the dramatic mill, it will probably serve us that one is a strong, well-characterized, complex woman, preferably from another political viewpoint or culture.
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If you’ve been on eBay at all in the last ten days, you’ve probably seen banner ads for an unusual auction: a copy of Action Comics #1, featuring the first appearance of Superman. Written and drawn by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Action #1 was published on April 18, 1938 (cover-dated June) by National Allied Publications, the company that eventually became DC Comics. Although it had a print run of over 200,000, only some 50-100 copies of Action #1 are still known to exist.
The seller, Darren Adams of Pristine Comics in Washington, had the comic professionally graded by CGC at a 9.0. Only one other copy has ever achieved a 9.0, and it sold for $2.16 million in 2011. Until yesterday, that was the highest price ever paid for a comic book. Adams didn’t restrain his enthusiasm in the auction description:
For sale here is the single most valuable comic book to ever be offered for sale, and is likely to be the only time ever offered for sale during many of our lifetimes… This is THE comic book that started it all. This comic features not only the first appearance of Superman, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, but this comic began the entire superhero genre that has followed during the 76 years since. It is referred to as the Holy Grail of comics and this is the finest graded copy to exist with perfect white pages. This is…. the Mona Lisa of comics and stands alone as the most valuable comic book ever printed.
This particular copy is the nicest that has ever been graded, with an ASTONISHING grade of CGC 9.0! To date, no copies have been graded higher and only one other copy has received the same grade. It is fair to say though that this copy blows the other 9.0 out of the water. Compared to the other 9.0 that sold for $2.1million several years ago it has significant superior eye appeal, extremely vibrant colors and PERFECT WHITE PAGES.
The auction ended at 6:00 pm Pacific time on Sunday. Bidders had to be pre-qualified and there were a total of 48 bids. The winning bid, placed 32 seconds before the end of the 10-day auction, was made by an unidentified eBay veteran with feedback from over 2,500 sellers. See the eBay auction listing here.
When we last left our intrepid blogger (me) two weeks ago, he was blogging (very roughly) about the superhero genre, pre- and post-Watchmen, and the kind of light that Alan Moore’s Watchmen shone onto superhero comics. I did this because I think Moore did something very special and I wondered if it could be done to other fields, especially planetary romance.
I ended on a cliffhanger. And now, Part II….
I said last time that most of the traditions of the superhero genre were born in a very brief period between 1938 and 1945. In fact, the elements of the superhero tradition come part and parcel from the larger pulp tradition, which contained westerns; gritty and occasionally lurid detective stories; and planetary romances like Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, John Carter of Mars, and Carson Napier of Venus.
The planetary romance tradition was powerfully tailored to its key market: white male American teens and men. If you were an under-appreciated teen with hero or power fantasies, pulp was your thing.
The heroes were young, white, smart, good looking, physically able, self-deprecating, and commanding. They confronted immediate perils (like a monster) or vast dangers (like an invasion), often single-handedly, or from a position of inspiring leadership.
And the opponents the hero fought were most often one-dimensional, morally-destitute cardboard placeholders for savage (non-whites) in our world, a view consistent with racial views of the late 19th century.
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I’ve been musing lately about the conventions of the comic book form we’ve inherited from the past and how they match to the sensibilities of the present. They don’t easily fit without suppressing either the core superhero conceits or the realities of the modern world.
Perhaps the most famous crashing of the two was Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which slammed the conventions of the superhero genre into the hard, hard wall of modern, adult sensibilities. It made a pretty mess of the superhero genre.
Most of the traditions of the superhero genre were born in a very brief period between 1938 and 1945, a time which birthed Superman, Batman, the Justice Society, Captain America, the Submariner, and the Human Torch, as well as many other less memorable characters.
The idea of the secret identity, of defending truth, justice and the American way, of the repeated conflict with the nemesis villain, and of just relentlessly defeating crime, were all in those first seven years. The only idea I can think of that seems to me essential to the superhero genre that was not formed in those times is the idea that the characters never really die (except for Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy, and Bucky, as the famous rule inaccurately goes).
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I’ve been a fan of P. Craig Russell’s comic work since his adaptation of Michael Morcock’s Elric: The Dreaming City first appeared in Epic magazine way back in 1979.
Russell did a lot of attention-getting work for Marvel, including Doctor Strange Annual #1 (1976) and a lengthy run on Killraven (1974–1976), before branching out as an independent artist. He returned to Elric several times, first with While the Gods Laugh (Epic, 1981), and Elric of Melniboné (1982–84), a limited series scripted by Roy Thomas from Pacific Comics.
He brought the character to First Comics with Elric: Weird of the White Wolf, and in 1993-95 he worked directly with scripter Michael Moorcock on Elric: Stormbringer (Dark Horse Comics). He also worked with my friend Mark Shainblum on The Chronicles of Corum, an ongoing series from First Comics, in the late 80s.
Russell’s first collaborations with Neil Gaiman were the famous “Ramadan” issue of Sandman (issue #50, 1992), which helped inspire Howard Andrew Jones to create Dabir & Asim, and a story in the Sandman graphic novel Endless Nights. That led to Russell’s first graphic adaptation for Gaiman, his novel Coraline (2008).
Now he’s produced his most ambitious collaboration with Gaiman yet: a two-volume graphic adaptation of The Graveyard Book, the tale of a boy who’s raised by ghosts in a graveyard. The first volume, just released, contains Chapter One through the Interlude, while the upcoming Volume Two contains Chapter Six through to the end.
Here’s the book description.
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One of the chief appeals of this comic, for me at least, is nostalgia. The story moves between two bygone eras: the 1980s and the future. I grew up in the 1980s and, like a lot of people my age, had almost as solid of an idea of what the future looked like as the present. In 1986, we all knew about the future. We’d been seeing it for decades on television and in the movies, after all. The future was filled with steel and plastic, robots and flying cars, bright colors and hope. Sure, there were some stories out there where the future turned out horrible, but we understood these as cautionary tales, warnings about the problems we’d avoid to guarantee that amazing era of endless innovation. We knew that 2013 would be so different from 1986 that anyone stepping through a time machine would think he’d set foot on an alien world. Even the slang would be different. But, for better or worse, that future is now past.
So, Rocket Girl starts in 1986, where a team of young quantum engineers (just run with it) are testing their Q-engine (which, for the story, is essentially a McGuffin device), when Dayoung Johansson, teen police officer from the year 2013, appears and places them all under arrest for crimes against time. Then she passes out.
As the story progresses, we get further clues to the exact nature of the “crimes” that have been perpetrated (or which will be perpetrated, given your point of view), with the implication that Dayoung’s actions in 1986 will either completely erase the 2013 she knew or unintentionally ensure that it happens. Meanwhile, as long as she’s in 1986 New York, she decides to use her futuristic technology (including her standard-issue rocketpack) to fight the crime and corruption that infests the city. Curiously, helping innocent people is not misinterpreted, she is not labeled a freak, and people treat her like a hero. It’s been a while since we’ve seen something that upbeat in a comic book.
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I don’t usually fan or geek out about stuff – my credentials in geekdom are rarely questioned, but I was thinking the other day about my influences and in what direction I might want them to go.
I’ve been reading a lot of space opera and really hard sci-fi lately, mostly Alastair Reynolds with a side of Stephen Baxter, as I get ready to start a new novel. But hard sci-fi and fantasy are just setting. Any plot structure can fit inside them. Baxter is a lot of adventure. Reynolds is very noir.
That got me to thinking about what stories I enjoyed and why. One of the appeals of Game of Thrones is how it’s a giant soap opera. Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men was similarly soapy, as was the reimagined Battlestar Galactica.
And that reminded me of how much I loved Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series as a teen. The Kingdom of Gwynedd, a human world of the Middle Ages with a scattering of persecuted psionic families, has always seemed to me to be one of those surprisingly under-appreciated corners of fantasy.
The only reason I’d ever heard of it was because of issue #78 of Dragon magazine, which was an issue devoted to psionics in AD&D, and one of the articles featured the characters of Kurtz’s Gwynedd in role-playing terms. I looked for her books at my local second-hand store as soon as I could.
Right away, I found two of Kurtz’s core trilogies, the Deryni series (Deryni Rising, Deryni, and High Deryni) and the Camber series (Camber of Culdi, Saint Camber, and Camber the Heretic), and even after only the first one, I was hooked.
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What if Dr. Gregory House had become Sorceror Supreme instead of Dr. Stephen Strange? If you’re familiar with both those names, chances are you’ve just clicked off this page to order your own copy of Witch Doctor: Under the Knife. If you never watched House and never read Doctor Strange, don’t worry … this isn’t one of those parody books that requires preliminary reading.
Dr. Vincent Morrow is a practicing physician whose specialty is supernatural medicine. Demonic possession, vampiric infection, pregnant faerie folk … Vincent Morrow’s the guy you call. What the doctor lacks in bedside manner, he makes up with a knowledge of the occult so vast that it sounds like he’s making it up as he goes along (which hardly ever turns out to be the case). How exactly is interspecies breeding possible with the Deep Ones? What is the medical definition of a soul and how do you treat someone who’s born without one? What kind of scalpel does one use to remove a demonic parasite? (Hint: It’s the kind you have to pull out of a stone.) The answers combine traditional folklore with modern medical terminology.
The strength of this series is in the sheer overload of fresh ideas and new perspectives on old storylines. Of course, we all know the key features of a vampire (big teeth, aversion to holy symbols, allergy to sunlight), but there’s just something fascinating about watching a doctor run through each characteristic and reason out how it evolved in what is essentially a supernatural parasite. An old-school paranormal investigator would use some sort magic sphere to track down a faerie trading changelings for human babies, but Dr. Morrow opts instead for a CDC-style database that pinpoints each incident, then traces it back to an origin point as if it were an influenza outbreak rather than a supernatural phenomenon. And it’s fun, after all the other crazy stuff that happens in chapters one and two, to see him get genuinely bothered by the interordinal hybridization of Deep Ones mating with humans, not because it’s disgusting, but because it’s medically impossible.
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