Mage: The Hero Denied #5

Friday, February 2nd, 2018 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Mage The Hero Denied 5-smallYeah, Kevin, it’s me. There was a two-month break between issues 4 and 5, but it wasn’t due to any sort of publishing mishap. Rather, Matt Wagner built these month-gaps into the series schedule from the beginning in order to give himself enough time to finish everything without any unexpected delays. He takes advantage of this gap by jumping the story ahead by thirteen months. Obviously, spoilers and fan theories ahead.

It opens with a five-page flashback set some time shortly after the end of the first series (Hero Discovered). Kevin Matchstick is tromping through a sewer with a full head of hair; a magic baseball bat; and the first World Mage, Mirth. We get hints of things to come (high top shoes, four star hotels, the departure of Mirth) and a nice splash page of an Ellen Trechend.

We then flash to the present. Kevin is trying to explain to his son that his life is filled with tragedy and serious mythic underpinnings. But Hugo just wants to hear stories about his dad fighting monsters. Meanwhile, Kevin’s wife is apparently a realtor now (even though she was a teacher four issues ago), looking pretty sharp in her red business suit. They also own a purple cat named Chloe. And they’re staying in a house that they can afford because … I seriously don’t know.

We’re on issue #5 and I still have no idea what Kevin Matchstick is supposed to have been doing for the last ten years. Has he seriously just been living off a magic ATM card while he’s been avoiding fighting monsters?

Anyway, he’s walking Hugo to a school bus, asking if he likes the neighborhood, then takes a detour to an ATM to grab some money and bitch at the absent mage. And it looks like he’s been lying low since his battle with the hell-queen last issue. Which means, I guess, that he left his family to protect them, fought a monster, figured out that abandoning his family in times of trouble was dumb, then returned home.

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GOING BIG! Super Sized Marvel Treasury Editions

Sunday, January 28th, 2018 | Posted by Nick Ozment

Super Sized Marvel Treasury Editions-small

Ex-size-ior! Few things give me an exhilarating rush of childhood more than a Marvel Treasury Edition.

I see one and suddenly I’m five years old again, sprawled on the shag carpet by the bedroom door when I’m supposed to be asleep, that ginormous comic book spread out in front of me like a Life Magazine, surreptitiously turning the newsprint pages and delving into the four-color wonders of Spider-Man fighting a guy with a stegosaurus head or the Avengers flying across the sky to do battle with various nemeses or Conan hewing villains to rescue a curvaceous damsel.

Popular in the 1970s, Treasury Editions were mostly just reprints on Super Growth Hormone. They were, in a way, precursors to graphic novels: Each edition collected three or four comics from a series, sometimes with some new material thrown in.

Measuring 10” by 13”, they were striking. Part of the appeal to a younger reader would be the pictures are all bigger and more easily digested. I remember “reading” them before I could really read.

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Reading 2000AD’s The ABC Warriors for the First Time

Saturday, January 6th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

The ABC Warriors-1-small

I’ve been reading 2000AD for a bit now, and listening to the 2000AD podcast by the Molcher-Droid, so I’ve heard a lot about The ABC Warriors, but didn’t know anything about them. In fact, from the name alone, my first thought was that canned pasta Alphaghettis that my mother used to have in the pantry for when she was working and we had to make our own lunch. Little could I have guessed that ABC stands for the Atomic, Biological and Chemical parts of warfare, and the robots who fight in those kinds of wars.

As one of the comics bloggers for Black Gate, I recently got my hands on an advanced pdf of the fourth volume of The ABC Warriors. For clarity and disclosure, the publisher 2000AD is owned by the same horse-riding video game designers who own Solaris Books (my publisher), but I don’t get any bonuses or consideration if I review their comics. I just like comic books (as you can tell from my post history). So, I wouldn’t have reviewed this if I didn’t actually like it.

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Carl Burgos and Air-Sub “DX”

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017 | Posted by Steve Carper

Amazing Mystery Funnies #6, June 1939, cover art by Bill Everett

Amazing Mystery Funnies #10, June 1939, cover art by Bill Everett

Twenty-two-year-old artist Carl Burgos entered comics in 1938. He almost immediately started creating  his own features as artist/writer, achieving immortality in the field when an android bizarrely named the Human Torch burst into flames in the legendary Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939), the same issue that introduced Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner. The Torch’s name got passed on to Johnny Storm when The Fantastic Four debuted and the original received one of the weirdest revivals in comics’ history as the Vision in Avengers #57 (October 1968). (No relation to a 1940s character called the Vision.) The Avengers’ brainier members quickly traced his heritage to that android created by scientist Phineas Horton in 1939, conveniently forgetting that Burgos himself stopped calling him an android after about three issues. For the next decade, the Human Torch seemed to be a regular human whose body was fire, or could be set on fire, or contained fire, or something else equally unclear. The Golden Age lacked continuity police.

Probably only a few comics historians understand how obsessed Burgos was with artificial people. Just before the Human Torch he created a cyborg or robot named Iron Skull whose origin story changed every couple of issues and a few months later he produced an unquestioned android, Manowar the White Streak. Despite the name, Manowar was a utopian who fought evil in the cause of peace. (And wasn’t white. And not the same as Paul Gustavson’s contemporary Man of War for the same company. Writing comics history is footnotes all the way down.)

Comic books were so new in 1939 that, like Leacock’s Lord Ronald, they rode madly off in all directions. Superman, the the sensation of 1938, spawned more of what we now call superheroes but they didn’t dominate. The 64-page comic books had already made a swift transition from reprinting newspaper comic strips, with 30 or more titles inside a single book, to all-new titles containing eight stories (seven pages each to account for ads and filler material) and eight different heroes. How they decided which contributed to sales is anyone’s guess, although letters from kids surely guided them, but tables of contents changed virtually every issue.

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Watching the Justice League Movie

Saturday, December 9th, 2017 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Justice League trio-small

I have a poor track record seeing DC movies. The trailers have usually turned me off with their enthusiasm for finding the grim-dark cinematic angle that the regular comic book version of the DC universe chucked when it diversified its tone with the launch of Rebirth. So, I didn’t see Man of Steel kill people, or Batman and Superman fight, or any of that stuff, because I wasn’t interested.

Hearing that Wonder Woman was different, I happily checked that out, and thought it was a great expression of the superhero cinematic form (in this sense, I mean nothing more than the WW movie did what it could to make a great story within the conceits, conventions and expectations of anything based on super-powered vigilantes).

So my 12-year old son and I checked out the Justice League movie. By now, you’ll have seen many of the reviews, both good and bad, and will have seen that Warner Brothers isn’t making enough money of it for its investors to consider it a success. If you haven’t you can check out “Justice League’s Mediocre Box Office” and “shake-up in the works.”

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Rube Goldberg’s Radio Robot

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017 | Posted by Steve Carper

Rube Goldberg How to Get an Olive Out of a Long-Necked Bottle, Washington Times April 20, 1922

A robot on radio? What would be the point?

You might ask what was the point of a ventriloquist on radio, but Edgar Bergen made himself a multi-gazillionaire by ignoring other people’s considerations of sense or logic.

Bergen’s success with Charlie McCarthy was still a year off when Reuben Garrett Lucius “Rube” Goldberg had another of his incredibly numerous bright ideas. The cartoonist introduced the strip Mike and Ike (They Look Alike) in 1907. Calling lookalikes by those names became part of the language. So did the obscure slang term “boob” after Goldberg started the strip starring Boob McNutt in 1915. You think Al Jaffee created the bit Snappy Answers to Foolish Questions? Off by about a half-century. Goldberg’s Foolish Questions started appearing in 1915.

Not a bad legacy, though they all pale to his supreme cartoon invention — the Rube Goldberg machine. That term entered the dictionary, too, “accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply.” Above and below are a couple of examples from the early 1920s.

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Tom Sutton’s Creepy Things

Friday, November 17th, 2017 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Creepy ThingsNobody does good horror anthology comics any longer. Oh sure, some micro-press might release an issue here and there every couple of years, but it’s not like the days when you could go to any drug store in the country and find a dozen different horror collections on the spinner racks. Horror anthology comics first got big in the 1950s, before the Comics Code brought an end to all of that gory goodness. Flash forward to the Bronze Age of Comics (beginning roughly some time in the early 1970s), when the children who’d read Golden Age comics had grown up and gone into the industry for themselves. Bronze Age horror comics borrowed heavily from Golden Age titles like Tales from the Crypt and Chamber of Chills. But since they could never match those titles for outright gore (the Comics Code still being in place), they instead relied on sheer weirdness. And if you’re researching weird 1970s horror (which I frequently do), you’re going to run across the name Tom Sutton.

Just like in the 1950s, every comic book publisher in the 1970s printed at least a couple of horror anthology titles and each title achieved a different level of success. DC Comics had almost a dozen different titles at the height of the horror boom (House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Witching Hour, Weird War Tales, Secrets of Sinister House, Ghosts, Secrets of Haunted House, Tales of Forbidden Mansion, Weird Mystery Tales, Unexpected). Marvel Comics had fewer anthology titles, specializing instead in recurring monster books (Werewolf by Night, Monster of Frankenstein, Tomb of Dracula). Warren slipped around the Comics Code by publishing black-and-white oversized “magazines” that could have more violence and nudity (Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella). And all but forgotten in the comics shuffle is Charlton Comics, always less popular than Marvel, DC, or Warren. Part of the problem was that Charlton notoriously offered some of the lowest pay rates to artists and writers, making them less popular for the A-list talent.

On the other hand, what Charlton could offer was far less editorial interference. As long as the art and story didn’t violate the Comics Code, they gave their artists and writers a free hand to tell whatever stories they wanted. It’s likely one of the reasons that comic legends like Steve Ditko frequently worked with them. And it’s why Tom Sutton’s most interesting work was done for their titles (The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves, Ghost Manor, Haunted Love, Ghostly Haunts, Midnight Tales, Haunted, Monster Hunters). The folks at Yoe Books have collected sixteen of those stories in a stunning hardcover collection. It opens with an overview of Sutton’s career written by Michael Ambrose, followed by a selection of old cover illustrations, then the first story.

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Saucer Country

Thursday, November 16th, 2017 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Saucer-Country-smallRead this book. Go to your nearest comic shop and pick up the trade paperback collection. Don’t know where your nearest comic shop is located? Go to the Comic Shop Locator, type in your zip code and find out. Is it just easier to order a copy online and have it delivered to your home? Then go to IDW Publishing and order a copy. You can even order a digital copy if you don’t want to wait for delivery.

Why do you need to read this book? Because this comic book is about what’s going on right now.

The story begins with Arcadia Alvarado, governor of New Mexico and Presidential candidate. It’s a story about a woman running for President. It’s a story about the daughter of Mexican immigrants. It’s also a story about a woman who was abducted by aliens. So, yeah, this is a comic book (written in 2012, by the way) that deals with the possibility of a woman running for President as the candidate of a major political party. It’s also a comic book about a Presidential campaign where immigration reform is a key issue. It’s also a comic book about a Presidential campaign mired in conspiracy theories that leave people uncertain about what to believe. But that’s not what’s going on right now. That’s what went on in 2016.

Arcadia Alvarado was forcibly removed from her car by strangers. She was stripped naked and had a foreign object inserted in her anus. She was told afterwards that no one would believe her story if she said what happened and even if someone did believe her, there was nothing anyone could do about it. Either way, if she tells anyone about what happened, she believes that her career will be over.

Saucer Country is a story about rape. It’s about a group of powerful individuals who routinely abuse people and suffer no consequences for their actions. It’s about victims too afraid to speak out until one woman finds the courage to name her abusers. And it’s about the friends, family, and co-workers who urge her to stay quiet for her own good. If none of that sounds hauntingly familiar, you haven’t been paying attention to current events.

Saucer Country is more relevant today than when it was originally written. Find a copy and see for yourself.


Michael Penkas is an infrequent contributor to Black Gate. His mystery novel, Mistress Bunny and the Cancelled Client, is available in lots of different places. He maintains a website that you should check out.


Mage: The Hero Denied #4

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

Mage-4-smallA short review this month simply because there’s not so much to unpack here. The Umbra Sprite, the Gracklethorns, Kevin’s wife, and Kevin’s children are all absent from this issue. Meaning that it’s just Kevin and some monster lady that we’ve never seen before (and will probably never see again).

Really, this issue is meant to tie us back to themes from Hero Discovered and Hero Defined, so if you haven’t read those titles first, none of it will make any sense to you. The Queen of the Unending Dead tells Kevin that he’s the reincarnation (or avatar) of Gilgamesh, which is something broached in Hero Defined. She also tells him that the Lord of the Hunt has a claim on his soul, which is something already suggested in Hero Discovered. Then he fights an army of zombies. Then he kills the Queen of the Unending Dead with an exploding park bench. Then he falls off a cliff. Then he gets in an argument with an ATM.

Honestly, after five issues in (I’m counting issue #0), I get why some people might start pulling out of this series. Comics are expensive, we’re in almost twenty dollars deep here, and we really haven’t gotten that much of a story yet. Yeah, Matt Wagner’s art is always crisp and vibrant, no matter what he’s drawing. But Kevin pretty much wandered away from everyone else in the plot to have a fight with yet another monster and hasn’t learned anything that he didn’t already know from the first two volumes of this series. I get that, from the title of the series, he’s not going to win this one, but it feels weird that we’ve got an antagonist who’s still making the same mistakes after all these years, partially invalidating the value of his supposed lessons in previous books.

Of course, I’m sticking around to the bitter end on this one. But if the rest of you want to save your money and come back at the end for the collected edition, I totally understand.

Mage #4 is available in print at all decent comic shops, as are back issues to volumes one and two of the series. If you prefer getting your comics digitally, then check out Mage: The Hero Discovered, Mage: The Hero Defined, and all the latest issues of Mage: The Hero Denied at Comixology.


Michael Penkas has been a fan of Matt Wagner for longer than some of you have been alive. He’s written a dominatrix detective mystery novel, Mistress Bunny and the Cancelled Client, as well as dozens of ghost stories. He occasionally maintains a website and regularly participates at various reading events throughout Chicago.


Modular: Fox Trot Plays Dungeons & Dragons

Monday, November 6th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

FoxTrot_OrlandoBill Amend’s Fox Trot is a comic strip that ran daily from 1988 into 2006, then switched to a Sunday-only format. Still around today, it tells the story of the Fox family. Dad Roger is a loveable goober who wishes he was better at golf and chess. Mom Andy is the common sense core of the family unit. Sixteen year old Peter is a wannabe athlete, with fourteen year old Paige a typical teenage girl. And ten year old Jason lives to torment Paige and is a school geek. He’s got a pet iguana named Quincy who acts like, well, an iguana, but can really be the center of a strip.

The dynamics and shifting alliances of the three kids are instantly relatable to anyone who grew up with at least one sibling. as Calvin and Hobbes’ creator Bill Watterson wrote in the introduction to the first collection:

Fox Trot particularly captures the Machiavellian nature of adolescents. The balance of power between Peter, 16, Page, 14 and Jason 10, is a constantly bartered commodity, and alliances are fragile and short-lived. No collusion will survive an opportunity to get a sibling in trouble, and hesitant parents are goaded with the cry of, ‘Punish him! Punish him! Ground him! Ground him!’

Meanwhile, the challenges of parenting and marriage are amply represented by Roger and Andy. It’s one of my all-time favorite strips and with my nine year old son going through all my collections, I’m enjoying the Fox family all over again.

Jason is a Black Gate kid. His interests are all over pop culture: Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, horror (he loves Halloween, to his family’s pain), Christmas lists, Indiana Jones (even Young Indiana Jones) and cultural tropes such as westerns and Sherlock Holmes. Naturally, being a brainy geek, he’s into Dungeons and Dragons, usually playing with his best friend, Marcus. One rainy spring break, Paige found herself lured into playing D&D with Jason.

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