Monday, November 25, 2019

Longbox Junk - Off Brand One Shots Part 1

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, the place to find all the comic reviews you never asked for!

I believe I've mentioned in a couple of posts that I've recently come into two longboxes STUFFED with non-DC/ Marvel comics. . .mostly from the 90's.

I bought the boxes from a closing comic shop (another one bites the dust, R.I.P.) for a measly FORTY BUCKS because the shop owner knew that nobody else but me was going to touch them.  Indeed. . .his closing sale had been going on for a week and he hadn't sold but a few comics from those boxes.

SO. . .

Here I sit with about SIX HUNDRED random comics from mostly-defunct comic publishers like Valiant, Malibu, Innovation, Eclipse, NOW, Impact, Continuity, Topps, CrossGen Chaos, and others I've never even heard of.  Along with a healthy sprinkle of older comics from companies that are still chugging along like Dark Horse, Image, and Antarctic.

What to do with all of that fine Longbox Junk? Unfortunately, there isn't much that's complete, as far as runs or mini's. . .so despite the bounty of bargain box books at hand, they don't really fit my concept for Longbox Junk, where I generally try to get into full runs and complete stories.

BUT. . .

Among all the incomplete runs and story fragments, there is a big, beautiful stack of ONE SHOTS!

If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you know the love I have for the one shot!  It's probably my favorite form of comic art.  The creative team has ONE and ONLY ONE issue to tell a complete story.  There's no room for error. . .no "well, maybe next issue will be better", like there is in a series.  I absolutely love seeing if a creative team can step up to the challenge of the one shot.

So let's get into some of these non-DC/Marvel one shots, shall we?  We shall!

Cross Plains Comics (1999)

SCRIPT: Roy Thomas & Steve Lightle
PENCILS: Steve Lightle
COVER: Steve Lightle

Very nicely done! Lots of detail, great colors.  I like the way the main subject sits against the stark black background.  Sonja's face is a little strange, and there's no way I can hang this one on my office wall without an awkward appointment with HR (but that's Red Sonja covers in general, not just this one), but I like this one a lot!

A young Sonja learns the trade of thievery from a woman named T'Shika in the city of Khorsun.  When a theft goes wrong and the two find themselves pursued by the private army of a rich trader, Sonja stumbles into knowledge that the trader had something to do with the death of her family.

Sonja turns from hunted into hunter as she and T'Shika infiltrate his palace and find an ally in the form of an enslaved shape-shifting priestess called Sabra.  Unfortunately, in the battle to get close to the trader and gain information, Sonja accidentally kills him and is forced to leave without getting any closer to those who killed her family.

The End?

  Although listed as a one-shot on comic reference sites, this comic looks a lot more like what was supposed to be the first issue of an ongoing series.  It stands alone as a pretty good story, but there are a lot of obviously-dangling plot threads, including an ending that's more of a "to be continued".  That said, the legendary Roy Thomas does a great job returning to one of his signature characters.

BONUS: There's a nice little essay in the back by Thomas on how he created Red Sonja for Marvel.

The art is very nicely detailed, but the colors are often a little garish.  Not often enough to bring things down too much, though.  There's also a LOT of cheesecake going on.  Like the cover (same as the interior artist), there's a pretty hard focus on Sonja in sexy poses throughout the whole comic.  So even though the story is pretty good, this isn't really a comic you're going to want to read at work.

I give this comic 4 out of 5 barely-covered boobs.


TOPPS (1993)

SCRIPT: Roy Thomas & Gary Friedrich
PENCILS: Dick Ayers & John Severin
COVER: Jack Kirby

A great, colorful, old school character cover by the legendary Jack Kirby. . .complete with the signature Kirby Krackle! To be honest, the character himself looks a bit generic.  That said, this is the kind of cover that makes you want to see what's inside.  I REALLY like the bombastic text advertising the all-star classic creative lineup and the hilarious (to me, anyway) "1 of 1 COLLECT 'EM ALL!" tag.

A strange earthquake rocks the city of Chicago, opening a deep chasm that a young street punk named Darren falls into.  He finds himself in a mysterious cave with glowing rocks and a strangely-dressed man in a crystal pod.  As he investigates, he accidentally opens the pod and frees the man, who speaks in a strange language. . .but we readers know that he's a "ninth man" named Bombast with a mission to save the world of the "tenth men" and he's been in the pod for 15,000 years!

The confused Bombast leaves the chasm with Darren and begins to explore the unfamiliar world of technology he's found himself in.  When Darren is attacked by drug dealers he owes money to, Bombast saves him by using superhuman powers that allow him to turn almost anything into a deadly thrown weapon.  The battle brings Bombast to the attention of Chicago's resident super-cop, The Savage Dragon!

Bombast realizes he can't defeat Savage Dragon and is forced to escape.  Soon after, he encounters a strange metal-clad being named Death Flash who speaks his language.  Death Flash reveals that he is also a ninth man, but he is there to destroy humanity.  After a short battle, Bombast returns to the chasm, hoping to find some information to guide him.  He encounters yet another ninth man called Glida.  As they battle, their fight is interrupted by ANOTHER ninth man named Captain Glory, who somehow knows both of their names.

The End. . .to be continued.

There's a LOT of old school talent on this book!  That said. . .the finished product sadly doesn't  match the promise held in those names.   It's a shame to see such a waste.  The story is actually pretty poorly-written. . .especially in the dialogue, and in particular the dialogue of the reader's entryway into the story, the young, black "junkie" who discovers Bombast.  To be perfectly honest, most of his dialogue is extremely cringeworthy and borderline racist.  It almost breaks the story, it's so bad.

Setting that aside, the character of Bombast himself is just as generic as I was afraid of based on his cover appearance.  His powers are vaguely defined (he can. . .throw stuff?), he looks pretty ridiculous, and his dialogue is slightly annoying.  To make matters worse, his foe "Death Flash" rolls around Chicago on roller skates.

I realize that the creative team were going for a sort of late Silver/ early Bronze Age throwback style, and to their credit, they succeeded. For a comic written in 1993, this looks and feels exactly like something from the early 70's!

Unfortunately they didn't succeed in a GOOD way.  Instead, this is the sort of cringeworthy stuff that people making fun of the Silver/Bronze Age point and laugh at.  Maybe it was done on purpose? I sort of hope so, because then it's kind of brilliant, in a way.  If not, then it's just a pretty poor effort.  Sadly, I have the feeling this wasn't SUPPOSED to be bad.

The art serves the purpose of telling the story, but doesn't try to reach any higher than that.  Like the writing, I was expecting a little more from names like Ayers and Severin.  This whole comic just sort of feels like the minimum effort was put into it.

BONUS DISAPPOINTMENT: My copy didn't even have the Super Deluxe KirbyChrome trading card.  A single tear slowly trickles down my cheek. . .

I give this comic 2 out of 5 old white guys trying to figure out how young black people talk.



SCRIPT: Joe Brusha & Dave Franchini
PENCILS: Ario Murti
COVER: Alfredo Reyes

As a former Marine, a red-blooded male, and a general "America, Hell Yeah!" kind of guy, this cover immediately grabs me.  It's bold and very nicely done.  If I could hang this on my office wall without multiple HR complaints, I would.

BUT. . .

As an adult comic reader, it's a little embarrassing.  I would never have bought this if it hadn't come to me in a giant box of random comics.  My daughter was laughing when we were pulling one shots to the side in a separate pile (there's about 30 more) and she spotted this one.  She asked who buys these kinds of comics.  I didn't have a good answer.  That's why it's in this review.

In the dead of night at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., a mysterious hooded woman tracks her prey through the dark halls of the museum, pausing to briefly reflect on her family's long and dedicated military service to the United States through history as she passes by various displays.

Finally, she confronts a giant bull-headed creature with glowing red eyes and leaps into action, revealing herself as Belle, Hunter of Beasts! And. . .nope. That's it.

To be continued.

What little "story" there is in this comic takes up a total of three and a half pages, and is actually just a preview for a (then) upcoming series.  For what it is, it's well-written and nicely-illustrated, but it's hardly worth even calling a story.

So this is a pretty thick comic.  What's in the rest of the pages?

It's all single page pinups of scantily-clad women with barely-there "military" wear and guns.  So, yeah. . .except for the preview at the front, the rest of this comic is boob-tastic military soft porn.

Now, don't get me wrong.  The art is great on all of them, and I've got nothing against some fine-lookin' comic ladies. . .but it's just sort of embarrassing that comics like this exist.  It reminds me of the old "Swimsuit Specials" Marvel used to put out before they realized everyone was making fun of them for it.  And indeed, my daughter was laughing when she challenged me to review this.

Challenge accepted, punk! BOOM! Here's your review!


Talking about the cover above, I mentioned that my daughter and I were pondering who exactly buys these comics.  Who are they created for?  The only answer I really can think of is that there's a LOT of fantastic artistic talent being wasted appealing to the most basic interests of young men, and that (based on the other handful of comics from this publisher I now own) Zenescope as a company in general exists to profit from those basic interests.  Those basic interests being boobs.

Seriously. . .there's some great talent in this "comic" going to waste on stuff like this.  Judged on the art alone, there's a lot to like.  Unfortunately, the direction that art is pointed is disappointing.

I give this comic 4 out of 5 anonymous HR reports for the art.
1 out of 5 skipped ads for the "story".

I feel dirty now.  MOVING ALONG!


SCRIPT: Geoffrey White
PENCILS: Eddie Pittman
COVER: Tom Richmond

Not good.  It looks like something a teenager would draw for high school art class.  The (accidental, I promise) running theme with this batch of one shots (except Bombast) seems to be focused on nicely-illustrated boobs with the woman's face as an afterthought.  This cover is no exception. Everything but Kelly Bundy's boobs is pretty poorly done.

 I'm familiar with the Married. . .With Children T.V. show, but until now have never read one of the comics.  This cover does NOT give me confidence that it's going to be any good. Let's do it!

We follow the tragic tale of the Bundy's dog, Buck, beginning with his early days as the unwanted pup of a stray and a purebreed poodle living on the streets and searching for his father among the mongrels of the stray dog underground.

After finally finding his father and being rejected, Buck is saved by Bud and Kelly Bundy, who use him to gain sympathy as they scavenge for food.  After proving himself useful, Buck becomes a member of the dysfunctional Bundy family.

The End.

I came into this without much confidence based on the minimum effort given to the cover.  I wasn't wrong.  This whole thing feels sort of pointless and random.  None of the jokes really hit until Buck is in the Bundy home and we get some of that classic "Peg vs. Al" back and forth that made the T.V. show a hit, but it's too little and too late.  The rest of it is just sort of "This happened and then this happened" with surprisingly little humor for what is supposed to be a comedy-based comic.

I digress a bit, but I see this often in licensed comics.  Some things just don't translate well from screen to page.  Comedy is definitely one of them.  It's a rare thing for a comic book to be able to capture the same spark of comedy as its source material.  This comic not only doesn't capture that spark (with the exception of a few gags toward the end), but doesn't even try that hard to do so.

The art is bright, cartoony, and very exaggerated.  For what it is, it's pretty good.  The art tells the story, but doesn't try to go any higher than that.  The artist doesn't really capture the essence of any of the T.V. characters very well beyond the world-weary Al Bundy, who is the only real bright spot in either writing or art in this comic. . .and his few scenes are at the very end of the story

Overall, this is just a very forgettable comic with surprisingly little comedy for being based on a classic T.V. sitcom.  Where Married. . .With Children the T.V. show subverted normal sitcom tropes to become something unusual, Married. . .With Children the comic book is pretty much by the numbers.

I give this one 2 out of 5 hands down the pants.


This first handful of off-brand one shots was pretty disappointing.  For me, Red Sonja was the best of the bunch, with the rest showing either a lack of effort or too much effort in the wrong direction.  Let's hope for a bit of improvement in the next batch my daughter has picked for me to review.

Up Next. . .

Single issue offerings from Rock-It Comix, Arcade Comics, Antarctic Press, and Acclaim Comics coming in the next Off-Brand One Shots Edition of Longbox Junk. 

Be there or be square!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Longbox Junk - Aliens (2009)

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, home of all the comic reviews you never asked for!

It's surprisingly busy at work this week for this time of year. . .the hotel I manage is hosting a big national scrapbooking convention. Who even knew there WERE scapbooking conventions? Not me. But here it is. . .and trust me, these folks are SERIOUS about scrapbooking! Well, serious enough to take over an entire hotel/convention center for a solid week, anyway.


With all the scrapbooking-related madness, I haven't been able to get much time for readin' and reviewin' comic books. So this week I'm blowing the dust off of another Longbox Junk Rescue Review!

These are reviews that I wrote a few years ago when I was working for a well-known comic site (that shall remain unnamed) that has sort of turned into a well-known comic RELATED site focused a lot more on T.V., movies, and anime instead of the comic books that made them well known in the first place. . .BUT I DIGRESS!

I call them "Rescue Reviews" because I've taken them (with permission) from the hard to find and difficult to navigate archives of said well-known unnamed comic-related site, added some pictures, and polished them up just a bit in order to put them in a place where comic books are still appreciated. . .namely right here at Longbox Junk. Other than that bit of spit-shine, they remain pretty much in the same form as originally published.

Enough introduction. Let's do this!


I'm a big fan of the Alien franchise. . .movies, comics, novels, video games. I love it all!  I even love those movies everyone hates (Like Alien 3, which is actually one of my favorites in the franchise).

Did I love this 2009 Dark Horse "Reboot" of the comics end of the franchise?

 Read on!

Dark Horse (2009)

SCRIPT: John Arcudi
PENCILS: Zach Howard
INKS: Mark Irwin & Zach Howard


COVER: Zach Howard

What a fantastic opening to this 4 issue mini-series! The excellence starts with the awesome cover and continues inside with the gritty, detailed artwork. . .which is definitely the best part of this entire series.

The story is well-written and for such a short space, has several twists. Starting with a prologue throwing us right into Alien action, then twisting to show that takes place sometime in the future of the story. THEN we follow one character through most of the issue, assuming she's the main character. Nope. . .twist again as she's gunned down later on. THEN we're introduced to the actual main character at the very end in another twist as he claws his way up from a mass grave. Very well done!

If I have one complaint about this issue, it's the design of the Aliens. They aren't the sleek black Xenomorphs I was expecting (and featured on the outstanding cover). They are reddish in color and have odd bumps and tusks. The artist draws them well, but it's just strange.

Other than that VERY small complaint, I couldn't ask more from an opening issue. Mystery, action, plot twists. . .let's hope the quality keeps high on this one. NEXT!


COVER: Zach Howard

Another fantastic issue! The art continues to really impress me and once again, the story takes several twists that just make me want to keep turning the page. . .

First we find out the identity of the true main character, then we find out he's the Alien franchise's favorite ex machina (literally), an android. Then we find out that there's something MORE than "just" Aliens on this world. . .something that plays with the minds of humans and controls them. THEN we find out that the people that need rescuing are the ones that killed everybody (almost) in the first issue, but they don't remember any of it except as a dream. 

Once again, lots of plot twists in a little space. I really liked it.

I only really have two complaints. . .first, there's still the strange-looking aliens. They're drawn fine, but I just don't like the more insect-like look. But maybe that's just me.

The second, I mentioned above. . .the Alien franchise over-reliance on android ex-machinas to carry a story showing up yet AGAIN. Too convenient. Too often. That doesn't make it a bad story, it's actually a really good story so far. I just rolled my eyes a bit when it was revealed that once again, an android saves the day. Stop it, Dark Horse. Just. . .stop.


COVER: Raymond Swanland

Although still good, I didn't like this issue as much as the previous two. The art is still the high point, starting with a great painted cover. Inside,the artwork is simply stunning as the action (and gore) kicks up a notch when David (the android) and the miners he has teamed up with are attacked by Aliens.

The problem I have with this issue is the same one I had with the last, but magnified even more in this issue. . .the ex machina of the android in almost every situation:

His "systems" can lead them to their lost member, Andrea. His "systems" can call down and remotely pilot the orbiting ship. His "systems" allow him to target and kill Aliens with relative ease (even though he introduces himself as a science model). And a main plot element is how his "systems" have been damaged to the point that he no longer is compelled to protect humans and at the end he hallucinates because of his damaged "systems". It just seems like a bit too much.

But like I said, that doesn't make the story BAD, It's just completely propped up on a very overused plot device. I did like the flashback scenes where the discovery of the mysterious alien (not Alien with a capital A, but something else that hasn't been revealed yet) is told about, but there are still plenty of questions I hope are wrapped up in the final issue. . .


COVER: Raymond Swanland

I have to say that this final issue was a pretty disappointing ending to this series.

After an extremely strong opening 2 issues, the story went a bit downhill. Not a complete slide off the rails by any means. It was still decent, and the art remained of fantastic quality through the whole thing. . .it's just that the ending in this last issue didn't really resolve anything. It's less of a "The End" and more of a "To Be Continued".

This issue was pretty much all out action as the android, David, and the small group of miners under his protection fight their way out of the alien (small a) city and are relentlessly attacked by Aliens (big A) on the way back to his ship. Yeah, they escape after losing a few members along the way, but that's not where the disappointment comes from.

One of the miners breaks away from the group because he (sort of rightly) doesn't trust a damaged android to lead them to safety. He returns to the heart of the alien city and we see him pretty much worshipping some sort of giant glowing alien (small a) being that has no resemblance to the Aliens (big A). It sort of comes right out of nowhere without any explanation, and then. . .nothing. The stoy just ends. It's like this whole mini was a prologue to another story.

It left a lot of questions unanswered. How could the android, David, dream and hallucinate? Who or what built the alien city? What was the giant glowing being that Red was worshipping? Why are the Aliens different in form and color? So on and so forth.

I'm not sure if there was a follow-up to this story, but as a stand-alone tale, the ending is not good at all, and probably the most disappointing part of this entire series. A mini-series implies a complete story. This is NOT a complete story.


Despite an over-reliance on the tried and true super android ex machina and an unexplained ending that leaves this an incomplete story, I really enjoyed this mini for its individual parts, even though as a whole it ended on a disappointing note. 

The art was outstanding in every way, on every page, and in every panel. The story kept me turning the page, even though the plot twists of the first couple issues took a back seat to action on the back half. I just wish this would have gone a couple more issues and given a more satisfying ending.

All in all I would definitely suggest this mini for anyone who likes the Aliens franchise, with a fair warning that it isn't a complete story. If you don't like the whole Aliens thing, this mini won't change your mind a bit. 

Next up. . .

Something from my newly-acquired giant pile of non DC/Marvel comics! There's a LOT of good junk in there. Maybe TOO much! I think I might be having a bit of off-brand Longbox Junk overload! SO MUCH GOOD JUNK! I'm having a hard time picking.

Be there or be square.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Longbox Junk Retro Review/ Reader Request Edition! Man-Bat (1975)

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, the blog absolutely stuffed full of comic book reviews that nobody asked for!  Well. . .at least they USUALLY don't ask for them.  That's right, it's another Longbox Junk Reader Request Edition!

A while back, my comic lovin' daughter challenged me to take on some reader requests.  The call went out, a decent list was formed, and now I occasionally draw one randomly from a hat (An actual hat.  A set of Micky Mouse Ears monogrammed with my daughter's name from Disney World, to be specific) and then here we are!

Congratulations goes out to Spector of Comic Book Realm for his fine request for some Man-Bat!

I WAS originally going to do the 1996 3 issue Man-Bat mini for this entry because I like how it feels like a non-branded Vertigo horror comic.  Spector's request was actually for the 1975 two issue Man-Bat "series", but between me and my daughter, we only have the first issue of that one, and I usually only like reviewing complete stories.

BUT. . .

You know what? There's no real rules here at Longbox Junk, so I decided to just go ahead and steal my daughter's Man-Bat #1 for a nice single issue combination Retro Review and Reader Request Edition, because why not? Spector wanted Bronze Age Man-Bat, so here's some Bronze Age Man-Bat!

A bit of introduction first.

Man-Bat is one of those characters that's hard to pin down.  He's a great supporting character (mostly in Batman-related comics) that's sometimes a hero, sometimes a villain, but is never really able to hold down an ongoing series.  He's had several rebooted origins (Let's not even talk about what they did to the poor guy in the New 52), but at the heart of things, Man-Bat is actually a horror character.

Digging down to the essence of the character, he's sort of a combination of the Hulk and Werewolf by Night.  Basically, he's a brilliant scientist named Kirk Langstrom who fell victim to an experiment gone wrong.  He transforms into a vicious flying humanoid bat-like creature where he has varying degrees of control over both the transformation and his state of mind once transformed.

Sometimes he has control over himself and is able to work alongside others as sort of a heroic figure (as seen in the recent Justice League Dark comics).  Other times (as in the 1996 mini I mentioned above) he's almost completely inhumanly feral and capable of the most brutal and bloody acts.

So. . .science gone wrong forcing a man to share his body with a vicious creature he may or may not be able to control.  I should have done some Man-Bat for Longbox Junk Halloween!

In the comic at hand, Kirk Langstrom is able to control his transformation, retains his intelligence in Man-Bat form and is able to communicate with others. . .in other words, the more heroic version of Man-Bat.  Let's take a look!

DC (1975)

SCRIPT: Gerry Conway
PENCILS: Steve Ditko 
(His one and only time drawing Batman, by the way)
INKS: Al Milgrom
COVER: Jim Aparo

As usual, before we get inside, let's take a quick look at the cover.

I have to say. . .it's a real eye-catcher!  This great Jim Aparo cover is all about the contrast.  I love the contrast between the plain dark purple background and the giant bright yellow logo, boldly telling us that this ain't Bat-MAN, this is MAN-Bat!  Then there's Batman's cape framing the action in the center, which features a very nicely detailed Man-Bat and his "victim".  I love the banner at the top as well, which firmly cements this comic in the Bronze Age. 

This cover is just so well done that I'm not sure that my daughter is getting this comic back when I'm finished with it!  It deserves a turn up on my rotating "Wall O' Covers" on my office wall at work.  

So that's the cover. . .here's the story.


We begin in the home of scientists Kirk and Francine Langstrom, where Kirk is shocked by the sudden and unexpected transformation of Francine into She-Bat! (The origin of She-Bat can be found in Detective Comics #407, if you're interested)

The transformed Francine Langstrom attacks Kirk and then flies into the night, helplessly following the mental commands of a mysterious figure (that Francine calls Baron Tyme during her attack on her husband) telling her to track down and kill a man.

Kirk immediately takes his "Bat Gland Formula" and transforms into Man-Bat in order to give chase to his wife.  As he follows her, Man-Bat encounters several illusions produced by Baron Tyme to stall his pursuit. . .

Man-Bat finally catches up to Francine/ She-Bat just in time to stop her from killing her victim.  After Man-Bat subdues his transformed wife, he interrogates the man she was hunting and discovers that "Baron" Tyme is actually a Professor of Medieval History named Clement Tyme.  

But before Man-Bat can learn more, his wife regains consciousness and attacks, killing the man! Man-Bat quickly subdues Francine again and flies away from the scene of the crime with her.  

And with that, the scene shifts to Wayne Manor, where Batman is preparing to leave for the night, determined to investigate the mysterious killings that have been taking place while he was out of town a few days tracking down the Joker. . .

Seeing a familiar pattern in the killings, Batman's first stop is the Gotham City Museum to inquire about their resident Bat expert. . .Kirk Langstrom.  The museum's director tells Batman that Langstrom no longer works for them since coming into some money (from Batman himself in Brave & Bold #121) and that he's set himself up in a private lab near Antioke University.  

In the meantime, Man-Bat has taken Francine home and restrained her in order to try an antidote, hoping to transform her back into human form.  The antidote is successful, but suddenly, Man-Bat is assaulted with powerful sonar pulses from an unknown attacker!

As Langstrom attempts to escape the sonic attack, it's revealed that the attacker is Batman, who has arrived to capture Man-Bat, thinking he is behind the recent murders.  As the two of them fight, Batman falls from the skies, only to be rescued by Man-Bat.

With their battle finished, Man-Bat explains the situation to Batman, revealing that since he hypnotized Francine to find the cause of mysterious gaps in her memory, he has been aware of her being controlled by Baron Tyme. . .but because of Batman's constant interference in their lives, Langstrom was determined to find Baron Tyme and end the killings without the Dark Knight's assistance. . .something he is still determined to do.  

Batman reluctantly agrees to let Man-Bat take on the challenge of stopping Baron Tyme on his own.

Man-Bat flies to Antioke University and enters a high tower that Francine described while under hypnosis.  Inside, he discovers Baron Tyme waiting for him.  The villain quickly captures Man-Bat with powerful energy tentacles, then begins to gloat and monologue about his nefarious plan and how it came to be. . .

In his role as a Professor of Medieval History, Tyme discovered ancient books of black magic that he experimented with, managing to combine magic and science together and successfully summon a demon!  Tyme made a bargain with the demon. . .in exchange for magical powers, Tyme would supply the demon with human lives. 

 The demon also gave Tyme information about the Langstroms that enabled the would-be sorcerer to use Francine as his tool for killing.

After he's done revealing the details of his evil plot, Tyme begins a ritual to summon the demon, intending to give Man-Bat as a final sacrifice.  As the ritual proceeds, Man-Bat realizes the bonds holding him are nothing but powerful illusions controlled by Baron Tyme.  

Man-Bat uses his sonic screech to painfully disorient Tyme, weakening his mental control over the illusions and stopping him from completing the ritual.

Man-Bat escapes his bonds, determined to bring Tyme to justice.  But before he can attack, the sorcerer bursts into flame!  Man-Bat escapes the tower just in time to avoid a powerful explosion.  There is no longer any sign of Baron Tyme.  

As Man-Bat flies into the night, he wonders if it was explosive chemicals or demonic forces that caused the explosion.  A question that is left unanswered. . .

The End.

Well now. . .that was. . .Bronze Age.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  It's just that, like a lot of Bronze Age stories, this one felt extremely rushed and compressed to fit into a single issue. 

 For someone who didn't really come into comic collecting until the early 90's it just seems sort of strange to see a story like this crammed into a single comic book.  If this story were to be done today, it would either be a double-sized (and double-priced!) one shot or a 3 issue mini-series.

But does that make it a bad story?  No it doesn't.  This isn't a great story, but it's not bad. Truthfully it's just okay.  It sits right in the middle of the road, squarely on the line between good and bad. 

It moves along quickly and is well written (Gerry Conway is the kind of writer that can polish a potato and make it look good, so there's that)  but it also just sort of drops the reader into the world of Man-Bat without any introduction, with the action hitting straight out of the gate with the first story panel.

It just sort of assumes that readers will already know Man-Bat from other comics, and indeed, there are several editorial references to Detective, Batman, and Brave & Bold through the story, which sort of hangs the whole thing on the hook of previous Man-Bat appearances and leaves little for new readers to get into the character with.

To be fair, there's a full-page summary of Man-Bat's previous appearances at the end of the issue:

I like that DC included this, but it doesn't really help the story feel less like the first issue of what was supposed to be an ongoing series and more like a story that could have been found in #35 or any other random issue of a Man-Bat series.  It just doesn't seem. . .special.  

I'm not sure if it's because of my more modern reading tastes, but this story just doesn't seem like what one would expect in a first issue meant to hook in new readers on the idea of a Batman villain becoming the hero.  As I said above, it's not BAD. . .but at the same time, it's not really memorable or remarkable in any way. 

But the draw here for many who pick this issue up will be the art. 

As I noted above, this issue features Steve Ditko (Best known more for his Marvel work as the artist and co-creator of Spider-Man & Doctor Strange. . .among others) drawing Batman for his first and only time.  That and well. . .it's the legendary Steve Ditko.  For some people, that's all that needs to be said.

So here's the thing.  There are some mighty high pedestals that some creators from the Silver Age are set on.  In the minds of many comic fans, Steve Ditko sits up on one of the highest there is.  I mean, Spider-Man IS a pretty high bar for other creators to try and hurdle.  I won't question that.


I've never been one for unabashed worship of comic creators.  There's not a single one out there, no matter HOW legendary, that hasn't phoned it in at some point.  Fortunately, Ditko didn't phone this one in. But to be fair, this also isn't his best work.  It seems that the unremarkable nature of the story might have carried over to the artwork as well.

There ARE some really good panels scattered throughout this story. . .the aerial battle between Man-Bat and Batman is outstanding, for example.  And Ditko's portrayal of Batman is likewise outstanding.  I really like the way he keeps Batman's face mostly hidden in the dark, and Batman himself as a dark figure, mostly defined by shadows, often just a silhouette of the distinctive cape and cowl. . .as Batman SHOULD be!  

Based on this issue alone, I would have REALLY liked to see Ditko as a regular Batman artist during his short time at DC!  I'd wager it would be considered a defining run among collectors today.

But beyond a few standout moments, the art here is generally good, but certainly not the best effort coming from someone as highly-regarded as Steve Ditko. It's not phoned in or bad in any way, but based on other work I've seen from Ditko, it could have been a lot better.


Overall, this issue is a pretty average effort.  The story feels rushed and crammed into too small of a space, but I have to blame the Bronze Age in general for that, and not Gerry Conway.  His writing is good here, but not remarkable or memorable in any way.  It certainly doesn't feel like the first issue of a series because the story hangs firmly on the hook of previous Man-Bat appearances in other comics.

As far as the art goes, the big draw here is Steve Ditko drawing Batman for the first and only time.  For a lot of people, that's enough.  For me, it's plainly not his best work.  Ditko's take on Batman IS the best part of this comic, but the rest of the art (while good) could have been a lot better.

Good taken with bad, If you're a Batman or Steve Ditko fan I'd recommend picking this one up if you can find it at a decent price.  I'm not sure it's worth taking much effort to specifically hunt it down unless you're a Batman, Man-Bat or Ditko completionist.  This isn't a bad comic, but it's not a great one either.  It's just okay.

Up Next. . .

I just picked up a TON of Longbox Junk from a closing comic shop. . .as in two full Longboxes of it!  SO MUCH GREAT JUNK!  There's a bunch of NOW, Continuity, Acclaim, Malibu, and early "We wanna be like Marvel!" Image comics in there.  If I have a full run of anything, I'll probably drop that next.

Be there or be square!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Longbox Junk Retro Review - The Brave & The Bold #55 (1964)

Welcome one and all to another "Retro Review" edition of Longbox Junk, where I spotlight one of the older or more "valuable" comics in my collection. 

Sometimes I buy comics in large lots at auctions just because a couple of them catch my eye.  The rest of them usually end up dutifully bagged, boarded, and recorded but basically end up sitting unread except for a quick flip through to see what shape the pages are in.  This is one of those comics. . .

So jump into the paper time machine with me and travel back to 1964 to take a look at an issue of DC's long-running team up title, The Brave & The Bold.  I've previously dipped into B&B here on Longbox Junk, but more toward the end of its run during the 80's. 

HERE and HERE, if you want to take a look.

I found the issues I reviewed (with a couple of exceptions) to be pretty weak and not seeming to have much effort put into them.  It was obvious that the title was about done for.


The issue at hand is from quite a bit earlier in the Brave and Bold run, before the title pretty much became an exclusive Batman team up vehicle.  Does it maintain the same lackluster quality I found in later issues that generally make me not want to read any Brave And Bold comics I end up with?

Let's find out!

DC (1964)

COVER: Ramona Fradon

Starting off before even opening the book up, I wasn't too impressed with the cover on this one.  

It's just sort of pale in overall color and The Atom looks kind of strange. . .like he's too big to make much of a difference in the battle pictured, but at the same time too small to do more than stand there squeaking exposition at potential comic buyers.  

After my experience with the mediocre Brave & The Bold issues I previously reviewed, I prepared myself for more of the same as I looked at the cover of this one.

BUT. . .

A cover ain't a comic, so let's get inside this thing.

SCRIPT: Bob Haney
PENCILS: Ramona Fradon
INKS: Charles Paris

The story goes like so:  

The Metal Men are destroyed one by one by various means until the villain reveals himself to Doctor Magnus.  It turns out to be his FIRST Metal Man, Uranium (and Uranium's own creation, Metal Woman Agnatha. . .or Silver).  

Magnus' original creation was brilliant, but twisted, so Magnus destroyed him. . .or so he thought.  Uranium was brought back to life by an atomic explosion, and since then he has worked to destroy The Metal Men so that he can prove he's the greatest of Magnus' creations.

Uranium and Agnatha take Magnus prisoner and force him to help build a ray that destroys any metal.  Magnus manages to beam out a secret message that is received in the lab of Dr. Ray Palmer, A.K.A. The Atom. . .who rushes into action to rescue Dr. Magnus.  

Atom discovers that the molecular structure of each of The Metal Men was altered, so he shrinks down to atomic size in order to reconstruct them all, then leads them to a confrontation with Uranium and Agnatha, where the heroes win the day, defeating the villains, destroying the anti-metal ray, and rescuing Doctor Magnus.

Overall, it's a pretty well-written story, told in a straightforward manner and with a villain I could feel some sympathy for.  It's a classic "The flawed first creation returns to haunt the creator" story that has been told over and over again. . .the most obvious example that comes to mind is the saga of Data and his predecessor, Lore, from Star Trek: The Next Generation.  

The battle ending the third act of the book was somewhat hokey, with quite a few forced-sounding quips and some strained effort to give every character a moment in the spotlight, but it wasn't so bad as to bring the whole story down.  

All in all, despite a few weak moments, I found this story to be surprisingly good.  It's not the greatest tale ever told, but given the time period this comic is from, it's far from the worst.

As for the art. . .

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. . .one of the things I like about these Retro Review editions of Longbox Junk is that it gives me the opportunity to learn new things about comic book history in the process of taking a closer look at the comic being reviewed.  

This time out, I learned about a remarkable woman that I had never heard of before, an artist named Ramona Fradon, who did the pencils on this issue.  I'm not going to bog down this review with a lengthy diversion into one of the creators, but if you are not aware of Fradon's place in the male-dominated comic industry of the 1960's, I heartily suggest that you read up on her.

The art in this issue has a clean, dynamic style to it.  Sparse backgrounds draw attention to the fine detail of the characters.  In particular, I really liked her depiction of The Atom and his shrinking/growing powers.  I wrote at the start of this review that the cover (also by Fradon) wasn't really impressive.  On a second look, I realize that was mostly due to the bland coloring.  The line art itself is actually pretty nice (But I still think Atom looks a little strange for some reason).


Overall, despite a somewhat weak punch-fest ending, I found this issue of The Brave & The Bold to be surprisingly fun and enjoyable.  The story was well-written.  The art was very nice.  And I learned something new about an artist I'd never heard of because of reviewing it.  I would definitely call this one a winner.

Up Next. . .

I'm reaching into the hat and pulling out another Longbox Junk Reader Request!

Be there or be square.