Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wayback Wednesday - Tor (Vol. 2) #1

(Vol. 2) #1

I knew nothing about the character of Tor when I stumbled across this comic at an antique store (Junk store would be more accurate) a while back.  All I knew is that it had a great Joe Kubert cover, was in surprisingly good condition for being unbagged and in a stack of battered Richie Rich and Archie comics, and was only going to cost me two lousy bucks. . .

But what I like about these Wayback Wednesday editions of Longbox Junk is that, beside reading and reviewing comics that have probably never been reviewed, I take the opportunity to try and learn a little about the background of the issue at hand and share a bit of what I come to know.

What I found out about this particular comic is that even though it is from 1975, it was actually written and drawn in 1959 as part of a failed pitch to publish Tor as a newspaper comic strip after the character had appeared in a short-lived (5 issue) series in 1953-54 .  This issue is an expanded and colored version of the 12 sample newspaper strips.

While Kubert is famous for other characters such as Hawkman and Sgt. Rock, Tor was one of his own creations. . .thought up while Kubert was on a troop ship during the Korean Conflict in the  early 1950's when the legendary artist was still pretty much unknown.  From what I could find out, Tor held a special place in Kubert's heart for being one of the first characters that he created, even though Tor never really caught on with readers as much as his other work.

So let's take a closer look at this early work of the great Joe Kubert, shall we?

TOR #1 (DC)

First off, what a fantastic cover! The bright, primary red background, the title rising up high behind the main character, who stands fighting off a horde of ape-like creatures.  It's bold, dynamic, and classic Joe Kubert.  It REALLY catches the eye.  

Unfortunately, the cover is the best of the art on this issue.  Joe Kubert was a legend, but he wasn't ALWAYS a legend.  You can plainly see that this comic is some of his early work.  The art inside isn't BAD by any means.  Rough Kubert work is still better than a lot of other artists best work, but this is certainly not his best work by a long shot.  That said, even though the art is somewhat rough, there are still some pretty excellent panels that I assume are part of the later expansion from newspaper strip to comic book.

As for the story. . .

It's bookended by an introduction and epilogue featuring Joe Kubert himself describing the genesis of the character, and is narrated as if it is a story being told by Kubert to the reader.  I really liked this method of narration.  I felt it added a very personal touch to the story and the character.

The story itself involves Tor during a hunt thinking back to his younger days when he was badly beaten by a warrior from a rival tribe for trespassing.  He asks his father to help him learn to fight and is sent into the wilderness to find a handle for an axe.  While searching, Tor is attacked by a river dinosaur and is saved by the same tribesman who beat him earlier.  In turn, Tor saves the rival tribesman from drowning and their debt to each other is declared even.  In the end, Tor learns that it is possible to win a battle in other ways than fighting.

Overall, I liked the story a lot.  It reminded me of some of his stories featuring the greatest anti-war war hero ever written, Sgt. Rock, in that sometimes what you might THINK is the solution to a problem might not be the best way to solve it after all.  It's a story that's been done over and over, but it still rings true.  It's an extremely simple story when you get right down to it, but in this issue, Kubert tells it well.

So while the story itself was straightforward, timeless, and enjoyable, I couldn't help but be a bit put off by the overall feel of the setting.  Maybe it's because Tor is a product of the 1950's, but there's a part of me that had a really hard time accepting humans and dinosaurs living together, clean-shaven (and as The Walking Dead's Abraham put it, "Dolphin Smooth") Neanderthal tribesmen, and a completely utter disregard for biological accuracy of the dinosaurs.

Okay. . .I get it.  It's an action story set in prehistoric times.  There's some artistic wiggle room.  But there's a difference between wiggle room and just throwing all scientific knowledge out the door.  If Kubert had just set this tale in some sort of a "Lost World' scenario (Like Turok or Ka-Zar) this would have not even lifted my eyebrow, but it's not.  So my comic suspension of disbelief was severely put to the test by this whole setup.

In addition to the main story, there is also a 1 page text feature about the dinosaur monster movies that inspired Kubert to create Tor.  It was actually pretty interesting, for a proto-Wikipedia page.

There was also a 2 page text piece by Allan Asherman on the character of Tor and his previous appearances, along with a montage of a few pieces of the art from the earlier Tor series from 1953.  I found it to be somewhat interesting (in the same proto-Wikipedia way as the dinosaur movie page described above) but a bit unnecessary.


All in all, I really liked this comic.  It has a fantastic cover, decent art, and a good story.  The setting is ridiculous and the extra text information features feel like unnecessary page padding, but the good here outweighs the bad.  It's a bit of a shame that Tor never really caught on.  I can tell just from this issue alone that Tor held a special place for Joe Kubert.  Perhaps with a different setting that didn't throw scientific knowledge completely out the window, this series would have gained the legs it needed to stand alongside the legendary artist's more popular work.

Up next. . .

Longbox Junk business as usual until next Wayback Wednesday.

I have no idea what this series is about.  I got it in a cheap batch of comics I picked up last month at a store that was closing down.  All I know is that it features "Red Robin" and takes place when everybody thought Batman was dead.  That and it isn't worth a damn, as far as money value goes. . .so Longbox Junk!
DC's World's Finest (2009) 4 issue mini.  

Be there or be square!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wayback Wednesday - The Occult Files Of Doctor Spektor #1



After the Golden Age of horror comics (the 1950's) came to a screeching halt, thanks to the Comics Code Authority, pretty much any comic book horror material was to be found in titles slipping through a CCA loophole in the form of larger-sized black and white "magazines".  

But in the 1970's, publishers began to push against the CCA and there was a major resurgence of horror comics in color. . .Swamp Thing, Werewolf by Night, Tomb of Dracula, and many others.  Unfortunately, the horror resurgence was pretty short-lived and didn't really last far into the 1980's.

From what I understand, the short life of the 1970's horror resurgence was mostly due to the fact that the comics weren't particularly horrific. . .99% of them would more properly be described as "Supernatural Comics" rather than "Horror Comics", mainly because they still adhered to the CCA even though they were skirting around the edges of it.  

What we have here for this edition of Wayback Wednesday is a NON-CCA horror comic that came out in 1973 as part of that big horror resurgence. From what I've been able to find out about it, Doctor Spektor is a practically forgotten character, and remains little more than a footnote in horror comic history.

So let's take a closer look at this artifact from the 70's, shall we?


So right off the starting line, this comic has a VERY nice painted cover.  It's a bit deceptive as to the actual story inside, but that was pretty much par for the course when it came to horror comics in general.  I couldn't find a credit for the artist, but it LOOKS like the same artist who did the interiors (Jesse Santos).  In any case, no matter who did the cover, it's 70's-tastic in every way!

Inside, there's two stories.  "Cult of The Vampire", the longer main story, and a 4 pager in the back by the same creative team called "Little 'Ol Coffin Maker".  I'll take a look at them separately.

So when I take a look at the art and script credits, something catches my eye.  The name of the writer (Don Glut)  seems familiar, but at the same time, not familiar for some reason.  I look up his name and it hits me.  He wrote one of my favorite books. . .one I read at least a dozen times when I was younger. . .the novelization of "The Empire Strikes Back".  


The main story quickly introduces us to the main character. . .Doctor Adam Spektor, his assistant. . .Lakota Rainflower, and the general series setup. . .he's a scientific investigator of monsters and the paranormal and she's a paranormal skeptic.  Like I said, it's all done very quickly.  The info-dumping takes up about 2 pages and isn't intrusive or annoying.  The writing in general moves at a snappy pace through the whole book, but I really liked how the introductions were handled.

The story itself goes like this:

Doctor Spektor has been researching a drug that might possibly cure vampires.  He hears about a possible vampire in Transylvania, so he decides to go there, hunt down the vampire, and try to cure him.  The vampire in question is called Baron Tibor, who was defeated and staked about 40 years before, and has been revived by a cult who will serve him in exchange for immortality.

When Spektor and his assistant arrive in Transylvania, they are immediately targeted and attacked by the cult, leaving Spektor for dead and bringing Rainflower to Baron Tibor so that he can feed on her.

What the cult doesn't realize is that Baron Tibor doesn't WANT to lead a cult or feed on the innocent any longer.  While trapped between the world of the living and dead when he was staked in the grave, he realized he was a monster and deserved to be punished.  He's more than a little angry that his punishment has been interrupted, so he fights his blood thirst and flees the cult. . .but leaves Rainflower in their hands.

Doctor Spektor and Baron Tibor encounter each other, and after a short battle, Tibor tells Spektor the truth of things, he's a changed man and wants to do no harm, and will help Spektor rescue Rainflower.  In exchange, Spektor agrees to use his new drug on Tibor and try to cure him of his curse.

They rescue Rainflower with a ruse where Tibor pretends he's going to drink her blood, then make their escape and leave the cult in the hands of a mob that has gathered from the nearby village.  Spektor's cure isn't a full cure, Tibor is still a vampire, but the drug eliminates his thirst for blood.  They part ways as friends, with Tibor promising to make the best of his second chance.

Overall, I really liked this story quite a bit.  The writing was snappy and moved at a fast pace, and the twist of the vampire not wanting to be a vampire any more was unexpected.  I could definitely tell that this was a product of the 70's with some of the dialogue, but that didn't make the story any less enjoyable.  

As for the art, I found it to be very nicely done, with a dark and moody, detailed look to it that perfectly matched the story being told.  I had never heard of this artist, but compared to a lot of the other comics from the 70's I've read, he's really quite good.  I Wiki'd him up and found out that he wasn't very prolific, having only worked on a handful of comics before going into animation, but I think he could have stood toe to toe with any of the more well known artists at the time.  His work on this particular issue is outstanding!

As for the second story:

It's done by the same writer and artist, so it shares the same snappy writing and fantastic art as the main story.  It involves a hunted criminal who breaks into a coffin maker's shop to hide from the police.  He doesn't realize that the coffin he hides in was specially made for Count Dracula himself.  The coffin maker locks him inside, and when Dracula comes to pick up his new coffin, there's a little something extra waiting for him when he gets home and opens it up.

For being so short, the backup is really enjoyable.  I think in most part due to the talents of the writer and artist.  It COULD have fallen flat on its face, but it didn't.  It wasn't quite as funny as it was trying to be, but still a very nice little piece of filler.


I bought this comic at a flea market for $1 and had never heard of Doctor Spektor before.  Now I want to try and find more issues (it had a 24 issue run) of this title.  The story was unexpectedly good, the art was fantastic, and all in all I have to say that was probably one of the best dollars I've ever spent.  I only have one real negative with this book and it's that I feel the lack of a CCA seal was totally wasted here.  Being a horror book focusing on vampires, it was remarkably bloodless for not having CCA approval.  That small gripe aside, I would definitely suggest this issue to any fan of 70's horror comics that hasn't read it yet.

Up Next. . .

Back to Longbox Junk business as usual until next Wayback Wednesday.

I wondered what happened to those great anthology titles of the 1970's when I reviewed Marvel's 2009 "Astonishing Tales" mini.  So now let's take a look at one of DC's efforts to revisit the anthology. . .

Vertigo's 5 issue return to "Weird War Tales".

Be there or be square!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Wayback Wednesday - X-Men #35

X-MEN (vol. 1) #35

Face front, true believers! For this week's Wayback Wednesday edition of Longbox Junk we take a trip back to 1967 for some Merry Marvel Mutant Madness, guest starring the one and only Wisecracking Wallcrawler. . .The Sensational Spider-Man! 

Sit back and enjoy another comic review nobody ever asked for, brought to you by the Astounding Authorship (AND Humongous Humility) of yours truly!

X-MEN #35: Along Came A Spider

So the story basically goes like this:  Banshee is in Europe on the hunt for a sinister group called Factor 3.  He discovers their hidden lair, but is attacked and defeated by a spider-like robot.  Before he is captured, he manages to send a message to the X-Men about his discovery, and tries to warn them about the robot, but the message is incomplete. . .just telling them to "Beware the Spider".


As the X-Men ponder the mysterious message, Peter Parker (AKA Spider-Man) has chosen that EXACT time to take a motorcycle ride out in the country, where he is attacked by a Spider Robot that Factor 3 sent to recon how much of a message Banshee was able to get through to the X-Men.  While he is fighting the robot, the X-Men get an alert from Cerebro about an evil mutant nearby.  They rush to check things out.  Spider-Man defeats the Spider Robot and it self destructs just before the X-Men arrive on the scene.  

It quickly turns into a classic "Heroes battle each other until they discover that there's been a mistake made" situation.  Spider-Man hilariously and easily defeats the entire (well. . .almost entire.  Jean Grey stays back at base to monitor communications) X-Men team single-handed before they get a message from Jean telling them that the message was incomplete and that Spider-Man isn't the enemy.  They all sort of apologize to Spidey and then take off in Professor X's Rolls Royce, leaving Spider-Man standing there wondering what the hell just happened.  The X-Men get back home and start making plans to head to Europe in order to rescue Banshee.  The End. . .To be continued.

Okay.  So let's break it down a bit. . .

Overall, a pretty simple story.  Mostly an elaborate excuse to get Spider-Man into an X-Men comic, as far as I can tell.  The story is pretty much propped up by a string of improbable coincidences and extreme stretches of comic book logic.  It seems like they were struggling a bit to get this crossover done and still fit in with the ongoing story being told (Professor X is missing, kidnapped by Factor 3).

Not that the writing is bad.  Roy Thomas does a fine job with the dialogue, especially during the fight between Spidey and the X-Men.  It's really entertaining in that bombastic early Marvel way.  It's just that the PLOT itself is forced and even somewhat confusing.  Spider-Man picks the EXACT day all this is going down for a quiet day in the country, AND he ends up in the EXACT spot the Spider Robot lands. Cerebro can distinguish between good and evil mutants?  Cerebro can detect a ROBOT made by a mutant?  Jean JUST happens to find Xavier's note about putting a special crystal in Banshee's headband that can be reached by adjusting Cerebro's frequency? So on and so forth.  I haven't read a LOT of these older X-Men issues, but I have to wonder if Cerebro was used as such a Deus Ex Machina crutch as often in other issues as it was in this one. . .

But like I said, it's not all bad.  I thought it was great how the X-Men had to drive around in a borrowed car, and how Spider-Man was basically spanking the whole team single-handed before they were like, "Sorry, our bad." and took off, leaving him standing there by himself wondering what just happened, and thinking the X-Men were a bunch of nuts.  I actually got a pretty good laugh out of that.

So that was the story. What about the art?  The cover of the book is fantastic!  It's bright, energetic, and hits all the marks for a classic Marvel cover that I'd want to put in a frame on my office wall for my rotating comic art collection.  The interiors are. . .decent.  Not bad, but there's nothing very inspired about it.  No panels stand out as being particularly impressive.  The art tells the story just fine, but it doesn't try any harder than that.  There are also a few pages with some sloppy coloring, but not nearly as bad as other comics from the same time, and so they don't really distract from the overall picture.  If I had to use one word to describe the art in this issue it would be "Workmanlike", even though I'm not sure if that's even a word.  The artist did their job, but that was it.


All in all, I liked this issue.  Sure, the story was contrived and extremely forced, but it had some good moments. The art was okay, and the issue has a very nice cover.  What more could you ask for in a 50 year old comic book?  I've seen issues of more recent comics that make this one look like a masterpiece, so it speaks to the quality of Stan Lee era Marvel comics that this issue still stands up and entertains after so many years.  Despite its faults, it's just plain fun!

Up Next. . .

Back to Longbox Junk business as usual until next Wayback Wednesday.
It's 9 Stories in 6 issues with Marvel's 2009 Astonishing Tales mini.

Be there or be square!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wayback Wednesday - Cowboy Western #57


As far as popular entertainment goes, "The Western" is a genre that has all but disappeared.  Historical research and general hindsight has pretty much washed away the shine that used to glow from the legendary figures of the old west, showing them to be deeply flawed (and for the most part, mentally disturbed) individuals on BOTH sides of the law.  The strife between brave cowboys and vile redskins has been revealed as government-sponsored genocide.  The heroes have become the villains.

But that hasn't always been the case.  There was a time in popular American entertainment when the Cowboy was king.  Western movies, T.V. shows, books, and comics were dominated by tales of the wild west.  Men of stern character fought to tame a lawless frontier full of outlaws and savage indian tribes. 

 The "Golden" age of  western entertainment is arguably the 1950's.  Classic movies such as The Big Country, High Noon, 3:10 to Yuma, Shane, Rio Bravo, and many more ruled the box office.  Gunsmoke, Rawhide, The Rifleman, Wagon Train, Maverick, The Lone Ranger, and others were the most popular shows on television.  Songs by Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, and other "Singing Cowboys" were all over the radio.  

And then there were the comic books.  Kid Colt, All Star Western, Rawhide Kid, Lone Ranger, Cisco Kid, and so many others.  If you love Westerns as much as I do, then there's no way you can't consider the 1950's as the single greatest era of Western entertainment of them all.

On today's "Wayback Wednesday" we're going to take a look inside a random comic from that Golden Age of Westerns. . .Issue #57 of Charlton's "Cowboy Western", from October of 1955.

I'm gonna review what has probably NEVER been reviewed, because that's what I do here.  Let's get to it!

COWBOY WESTERN #57 (Charlton)

First off, I can't really credit or mention by name any writers, artists, inkers, color artists, etc. . .on this issue except for Stan Campbell, whose signature is on the cover.  It's obvious from the different art styles and writing that at least 4 artists and 3 writers worked on this issue, which covers a pretty wide territory. . .4 stories between 4 and 7 pages long, 2 one page stories, and a 2 page prose story.  I have to say, that for a kids dime this comic was packed FULL of Western goodness!

So let's break it all down. . .


Wild Bill Hickok saves the life of an outcast Comanche brave, then helps him regain his place in the tribe after helping reveal the conspiracy behind the crime that led to his banishment.

This story is well-written, and probably the best of the bunch.  I can tell by the look of it that Stan Campbell (the cover artist) probably also drew this story.  The coloring is a little heavy-handed on the Indians, and the backgrounds are sparse, but all in all, this was a very nice story.


Annie Oakley foils a robbery at one of her shows, then when the escaped criminals try to get their revenge on her down the road at another show, she turns the tables and foils them AGAIN.

Another pretty well-written story.  I liked the art on this one better than the opener, except the coloring was extremely sloppy on a couple of pages.  You can definitely tell this is a product of the 1950's from Annie Oakley's hairdo, wasp waist, and big bullet-bra boobs. . .but I'm pretty sure that 50's boys reading this didn't mind one little bit.


This one page "joke" story was pretty bad.  Lousy art, sloppy colors, and a weak joke.  The whole thing was pretty pointless except as a space-filler.  Moving on. . .


A two page text story with no illustrations, it's actually not bad at all.  Pretty good, really.  It's about some students trying to pull a prank on their professor and him turning the tables and scaring the hell out of them instead.  I sort of wish they would have skipped the "Ranch Boys" thing and made this story a 3 page illustrated story instead.


Jesse James and his brother Frank are trying to lay low in the town of Cascade, but when the hotel they are staying in is attacked, they step in to stop the robbery and are forced on the run once again, despite their heroic actions.

I liked this story quite a bit.  The "outlaws on the run, but doing good deeds" Robin Hood feel of it was very nice, and the art was also some of the best in this issue, despite some very sloppy coloring in certain parts of it.


Another one pager, but better than the first one in this issue.  The art was nicely done, with an exaggerated, comical look to it and the joke was actually sort of funny.


Golden Arrow (a blonde white man with a bow and arrow described as "The Robin Hood of The West) helps save an indian chief from an attack by another tribe, then helps recover a box of stolen jewels.

This was the worst of the regular length stories.  The art was sketchy and looked really rushed.  The colors were extremely sloppy through the whole thing.  The writing was just. . .bad.  The dialogue, especially with the indian characters, was awful.  The whole plot of the story was ridiculous.  NOT a good way to end the issue.


Overall, this book was 70% good and 30% crap.  The best story was the opener "The Trap", and the worst was the closer, "The Renegade Robbers".  The art in general was decent, with some very nice panels to be found throughout.  Unfortunately, the sloppy coloring through the whole issue marred some of the better art.  I have to say that for a comic book from the 1950's viewed from a perspective of 60 years of revisionist history and western deconstruction, I was surprised to find myself liking it as much as I did.    

See you next Wayback Wednesday!