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By | Monday, November 15, 2010 | 11:33 pm | 1 Comment | Blog > Reviews

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Includes Issues: Tor 3-5
Issue Dates: May – October 1954
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This review is spoiler free! Skip To The Verdict? »

Continuing towards our goal of reviewing every book the the DC Universe Timeline, here’s the second book on our list: Tor Vol. 2.

Like the previous book, this is a slightly oversized hardcover collecting the Golden Age Tor comics, primarily by Joe Kubert.

Here Tor continues his wanderings through this dangerous prehistoric world, beating up dinosaurs and teaching man to care for fellow man (usually by killing someone or watching them kill themselves through their stupidity.)

The Wizard of Uggh backups from the first volume are gone, but the Danny Dreams stories remain – this time drawn by Alex Toth! I’ve got no complaints about that – the Wizard stories were the worst parts of the previous volume and I found the Danny stories to be the most intriguing. Toth takes the reigns quite well here (though I’m not sure why his name appears nowhere on the outside of this volume.)

Also here are the interludes where creators Kubert and Norman Maurer speak frankly to their readers as well as the lovely “educational” pin ups.

One thing I forgot to mention last time was the presence of a few very short (two pages at most) text pieces – either adventures starring Tor or pseudo-scientific descriptions of ancient life and how the world came to be. There was one or two in the previous volume, but a higher ratio here.

Finally, the back of the book is again a large (28 pages!) art gallery full of supplementary sketches, designs, and art from uncompleted projects. Altogether, the whole book comes in at 142 pages.

The content is fairly predictable. While a lot of the last volume’s appeal was discovering a Golden Age character I was unfamiliar with, in this book I hoped to see him grow.

The art is often spectacular for the period (and enjoyable for any reader!) but the stories started to feel a little obvious. Of course, this is a problem shared with many Golden Age characters – the writers weren’t yet moving in the arcs we’re so used to now, so they simply had to tell an exciting story for the reader that month.

Tor tends to meet a tribe, battle their oppressors or solve their problem through some quest, often while dealing with a backstabbing medicine man who rules through fear and misinformation. He often leaps/moves/battles with the strength/ferocity/quickness of a sabre-tooth tiger.

At least one person dies.

The foes are a bit more interesting, often tribes of deformed humans or human-like animals – less focus on battling versus dinosaurs in this volume. Of course, most stories throw in at least one beastly battle, if only to set the tone.

There actually is some continuity with previous stories, but the most important link to Tor’s origin is told through a text piece – and while the pulpy writing isn’t terrible, without Kubert’s vibrant art I felt a little cheated.

The stories can be fun (and probably better when read one or two at a time, instead of the whole book at once) but left me knowing little more about Tor (or his little monkey Chee-Chee, who often seemed to entirely disappear for several pages).

The action in the Tor stories is strong, but my high points of this volume were slightly unexpected. I did love the dinosaur pin ups, but my favorite comic sequence is one of Kubert and Maurer talking about the uproar about the scandalous content of comics, which lead to a senate committee hearing (for those few of you who don’t know about the events that lead to the creation of the comics code, here’s the wikipedia link.)

The added context, and the fact that the creators are addressing it directly, makes this collection much more interesting.

Likewise, the Danny Dreams stories felt much more brutal because of the presence of a young boy as central character.

The world is shared with Tor, but a large man (even with a little monkey sidekick) watching his peers die feels very different from a young boy almost being eaten by a sea monster. Twice.

And his friends were not so lucky.

Even if in self defense, the thought of this primordial world turning Danny into a killer is much more disturbing than any of Tor’s violent conflicts.

I like to think that this was intentional on the part of Toth and Kubert – Tor’s life is exciting but wouldn’t it be terrifying if you were trapped in it and couldn’t wake up?

It’s a frightening thought, even with Toth’s artwork, which contains characters who can actually smile with a sparkle in their eye, compared to the deep browed denizens of Kubert’s panels.

Not that this is ever a horror comic – it’s fairly easy to see that our main characters will always be safe, but with the serial nature everything else is up in the air.

The material in the back is interesting. It isn’t always dated on the page, but it’s obvious from the drawing style that much of it was created well after the original Tor comics collected here. The work is heavy on detail and hatching, with modern storytelling techniques in the panel layouts. One idea of note consisted of a long, entirely speech free story – something that I think did end up in production eventually.

Even with the added pages, though, the book feels slim, something it shares with the previous volume. While the content is of good quality and unquestionable historical value, I often thought that all three volumes would have worked better as a single omnibus-style edition.

Some of the extra material and introductions could be trimmed, but even with extras included the combined “Tor Omnibus” would weigh in around 456 pages.

Very doable. So at 50 dollars each, these are overpriced.

An ending note: My copy of this book also suffers from the same lamination problem on the dustjacket as the first copy. There are no wrinkles on the front this time, but a fair few on the back.

I kind of think they look like dinosaur skin, though, so I don’t really mind.

3 out of 5.

Some really great Golden Age material and some brilliantly fun art – but only three issues in a 50 dollar hardcover. That’s a serious hit. And the stories here just aren’t as intriguing as those in the first volume. Recommended if you can find it for a reasonable price.

Essential Continuity:
For Tor, I guess so. The rest of the DC Universe has forgotten him to history.

Read first:
Tor Vol. 1 by Joe Kubert, previously reviewed.

Read next:
Tor Vol. 3, the last of this set.

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By | Monday, November 15, 2010 | 3:25 am | 0 Comments | Blog > Database Updates

I decided to finish adding images to the database for The Spirit Archives.

It’s unfortunate that I don’t have time to do my own scans right now, but I’ve done my best to color correct and touch up the scans I was able to find for these covers.

The Spirit Archives Vol. 5
The Spirit Archives Vol. 6
The Spirit Archives Vol. 7
The Spirit Archives Vol. 8
The Spirit Archives Vol. 9
The Spirit Archives Vol. 10
The Spirit Archives Vol. 11
The Spirit Archives Vol. 12
The Spirit Archives Vol. 13
The Spirit Archives Vol. 14
The Spirit Archives Vol. 15
The Spirit Archives Vol. 16
The Spirit Archives Vol. 17
The Spirit Archives Vol. 18
The Spirit Archives Vol. 19
The Spirit Archives Vol. 20
The Spirit Archives Vol. 21
The Spirit Archives Vol. 22
The Spirit Archives Vol. 23
The Spirit Archives Vol. 24
The Spirit Archives Vol. 25
The Spirit Archives Vol. 26
The Spirit: The New Adventures Archives

That’s all for tonight/this morning.

I think I’ll continue building the review archive with the next Tor book tomorrow.

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By | Sunday, November 14, 2010 | 3:47 pm | 2 Comments | Blog > Reviews

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Genre: Documentary
Release Date: November 9, 2010
Run Time: About 90 Minutes
Writer/Director: Mac Carter
Producers: Gregory Noveck, Ivan Cohen, Janet Fries Eckholm, Jeffrey Blitz, Sean Welch
Narrator: Ryan Reynolds
Interviews (including): Neil Gaiman, Dwayne McDuffie, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Neal Adams, Paul Levitz, Gerard Jones, Julie Schwartz, Len Wein, Walter Simonson, Jim Lee, Chip Kidd, Karen Berger, Frank Miller, Paul Pope, Mike Carlin, Louise Simonson

In a hurry? Skip To The Verdict! »

No book review today, because I finally got my hands on Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics.

This documentary is an authorized production looking into DC’s long history, ans with 75 years in just 90 minutes it’s hard to know what to expect.

The director, Mac Carter, has access to creators and archives that no one could touch without DC’s backing. He’s also working for the company itself, so it’s probable there will be a focus on what DC wants to promote.

With a company with such a long and complex history, it’s interesting to see what floats to the top of their autobiography.

The movie opens with a Neal Adams quote that I like a lot – “Comicbooks are the dreams and aspirations of human beings… you may not like comicbooks, you may not respect comicbooks, but they’re something that people buy for themselves that they want to read.” In this day and age, that’s rare!

The major interviews are all introduced in the first few minutes, among some lovely motion graphics scans of the big DC characters and beautiful dot patterns. Personally, I dislike when documentaries don’t immediately label their interviews, but a couple of these people are pretty recognizable to a long time comic fan.

Neil is there, somehow managing to talk about death as always. Everyone loves comics. We know this, but hey, it sets the mood. I couldn’t help being pretty excited.

Once past the title sequence, the movie jumps right into some amazing archival footage of founding fathers Harry Donnenfeld and Jack Leibowitz. Donnenfeld’s mob connections are mentioned and the companies pulp roots are gone over.

It’s a good start, and the rest of the early introductions are actually pretty balanced.

Of course Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman were pop culture sensations, but they were made by schmucks (with my Jewish family in the Bronx myself, I understand this is a term of endearment) and each had some specific awkwardness (especially Wonder Woman.)

There is a run down of other Golden Age icons, though it certainly seems that any other company creation is mentioned only if DC bought them out at a later date.

As you can expect, things move quickly towards World War II – did you know that over 30% of all printed material sent to service members consisted of comic books? It’s inspiring to see so many creators in uniform, even if it’s a fact I’ve known from paper.

The Silver Age segment is a bit of a love note to Julie Schwartz. Of course, this is entirely understandable – the man really brought DC back from the brink. It’s perhaps a bit disingenuous to say that the Justice League title lead to the creation of Marvel Comics, but it’s a claim I’ve heard before (the old playing golf chat). We’ll probably never know what the truth of that is. At least Marvel is given significant credit for bringing teenage readers back to comicbooks.

It’s fun to hear the description of the next generation – “Guys whose hair was longer than their careers” according to Len Wein. Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil, Paul Levitz – it’s great to see older pictures of these guys right alongside their modern interviews. And of course to hear their ideas about the pivotal run on Green Arrow/Green Lantern (including DC’s first African American superhero without the word “black” in his name.)

A little fanboy moment for me, as Neil Gaiman tells us the first time he fell in love with a comic book writer was during Len Wein’s run on Swamp Thing – something I’ve always expected but never heard expressly stated.

By the time we get to the Modern Age, we’re already an hour in. Frank Miller is a tad self concerned – his Dark Knight is a classic, but I do think that the aforementioned run on GA/GL certainly dealt with some of the issues he mentions specifically.

The chronology implied here is a bit weird. The Alan Moore segment about Swamp Thing comes after Dark Knight, even though Swamp Thing was running first, just as an example. What’s particularly strange is that the past decade is skipped, with almost 9 years of comic history completely left out, with only the other contemporary media mentioned (movies, games, tv shows.)

I guess without retrospect, it’s hard to know exactly what our current zeitgeist is? Or maybe the rampant expanding of commercial properties is what we are all about now.

The Moore clips here are archival interviews, of course. I was a bit worried that due to time, Vertigo would get short shift, but it’s good to see Karen Berger here talking about her imprint.

Likewise, Milestone (along with Static, Icon, and Hardware) actually gets screen time! It’s one of my favorite parts of DCs history, and I think seeing it here is a good sign (especially because they’re collecting more now.)

Ryan Reynolds, perhaps as a nod to his casting as Green Lantern, does a satisfactory job narrating, though almost everything here is brought forward by the creators.

Mark Waid, who I swear never got a little name credit under his numerous appearances, is probably the most constant voice and one of the most informative. It’s Louise Simonson who has the most moving interview in the film.

The disc itself is surprisingly sparse (the menu shows just “play” and “languages!”) which makes it feel a little bit like this whole thing is one long special feature. I was hoping for a few extended interviews, maybe a motion comic or something. Warner has had some pretty packed DVDs in the past.

Overall, I enjoyed watching the film and think it was a fair introduction to DC’s long and complex history. Like any compact documentary on a subject where many books have been written, a lot is summed up or glossed over. I feared that it would be overly promotional, but I think that the creators here did touch on many of the ups and downs, though none of the particularly unsavory events (like the treatment of Superman’s creators.) It’s acceptable, since the feature kept moving briskly in a forward direction, and was mostly concerned with the content of the comics as opposed to everything surrounding them.

Ideally, it would be just the introductory volume to a 24 disc set, with various features on the economic aspects, the fan culture, particular creators, and everything left out here – but I’ll have to keep crossing my fingers for that.

3.5 out of 5. I enjoyed it a lot, but I did feel that there could be more here for 20 dollars. There is just so much that is left out. It’s a great introduction, though, and will probably be very enjoyable to any hardcore DC fan (like me.)

Read first:
I don’t think you need to read or watch anything before this to enjoy it, but any DC you’ve got under your belt helps.

Read next:
For the DC obsessed, you may want to check out DC Comics Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle and The DC Comics Encyclopedia.

For anyone interested in more behind the scenes comic industry trivia, I highly recommended Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed by Brian Cronin.

This was my first comic documentary! Has anyone seen any others? Anything particularly good? Let me know!

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By | Saturday, November 13, 2010 | 9:20 pm | 5 Comments | Blog > Reviews
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Includes Issues: Powerless 1-6
Issue Dates: August 2004 – January 2005
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This review may contain slight spoilers! Skip To The Verdict? »

I admit to being a fan of character re-imaginings, Elseworlds and What If? style stories. Well, if not a fan (because many of them are terribly and trite) at least being very susceptible to them when it comes to impulse buys. That’s how I ended up with this book, Powerless, even though I didn’t know anything about the creative team and couldn’t remember any buzz about it from when it first came out.

I mean, heck, it had Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Wolverine on the cover! Color me fanboy.

So, was it worth the buy? Let’s discuss.

The book is written by the tag team of Matt Chernis and Peter Johnson. It’s illustrated by Michael Gaydos.

The story starts out with a Wizard of Oz introduction – our lead, the slightly bewildered (and a bit of a jerk) psychiatrist, Mr. Watts, wakes up from a coma – one in which he dreams the Marvel Universe – a brightly colored world of costumed craziness.

His dreary life seems strange and dull by comparison – but it’s populated by all kinds of oddly familiar faces.

His attending doctor is one blond Dr. Richards, whose husband, also a doctor, is just a little too formal in the workplace. Watts’ schedule is filled with names like Peter Parker and B. Banner. There’s even a cameo by a prominent Marvel writer.

If you fear this is a book for True Believers, you may be right – the first few pages are constant in-jokes. I’d rate myself at about a mid-level Marvel fan. On my first read through, a couple years ago I got about a quarter of the references and don’t remember enjoying the book as much. On rereading it for this review, I caught a lot more and smiled at a few of the more subtle ones (such as Ms. Frost’s  appearance along with her particular body language.)

But wrapped up in the constant parade of references is a surprisingly meaty mix of three plotlines held together by Mr. Watts’ own story. There’s a whodunnit that quickly transforms into a complex pattern of intrigue. A drama played out in the court of law and the city’s gritty underworld. A tale of corporate espionage spiraling downward into madness.

It’s a dark collection of narratives that hinges heavily on the motivations of these well known characters – what makes them unique besides their more easily explainable power sets.

The conflicts from the mainstream universe are all still in place, but without the revolving door death feels more permanent. Risk feels more real. And since this is a miniseries unconnected to main continuity, there is no next volume to imply a character’s continued existence. For this story, at least, that lends a sense of suspense not felt in most superhero comics.

It’s a testament to the writing that while there are a few “holy shit” moments, by the end of the book nothing that has happened seems out of place, or indeed, out of character. I always enjoy the feeling that nothing else could have happened. Put these people in this situation and this is the way it has to be.

In fact, the events in this book make a hell of a lot more sense than the events in the real Marvel Universe – although some of it mirrors back quite well and other conclusions are obvious reversals of the way things unfolded the first time. It’s fair to say that there’s a lot of wish fulfillment here. Just deserts and proper punishments.

But don’t let that get your hopes up – even if things seem right, it’s not a happy book and there may be no happy ending. That’s not the point.

Like real life – and don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of out there action and ridiculous coincidence evident here, this is still a marvel comic, come on! – this story is more ambiguous.

The art is fitting. Michael Gaydos sketches out a decidedly dreary world, slightly off kilter with shadows filling the pages. Lee Loughridge lends a dark earthy color scheme throughout.

Anxiety and a slight tiredness is evident on almost every face. Gaydos’ characters are not particularly happy to be living the lives they’ve been handed, though damn if they aren’t going to make the best of it. Even in at the upbeat moments no one seems quite sure about the next step – not the confident smiles of superheroes, but shaky, unsure smirks hoping for approval of conflicted actions.

Actually, that ambiguity is what the Marvel universe was built on, so it seems fitting. That cornerstone may be even more evident without the spandex. People, perhaps in more frightening situations and with more intelligence, prowess, or guts than you or I have, but people just trying to do what’s right.

The only real downside to this book relates to its accessibility. The What If? line of comics, and similar titles like this one, tends to be marketed directly at existing fans. It’s kind of a shame, because the story here is well crafted, but may be offputting to new readers. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense without previous experience – I know practically nothing about Daredevil and have never read a Punisher comic – but the references run the risk of being annoying. Even if all the interactions and characters make sense – it’s still obvious that you’re missing another level of enjoyment if you don’t know someone from before.

I remember this being very frustrating at my first read through, but I’m glad I came back with more knowledge. I’m actually scared, though, that if I had returned as a true marvel aficionado the constant references would be more annoying and keep me from enjoying what is original here (plus I would have gotten the small reveal at the end well before it happened.) So the book walks a fine line, and it’s hard to say exactly what level of Marvel experience is best for the reader to bring.

I guess you’ll have to find out for yourself. It’s worth the risk, because there’s a lot of good storytelling here.

4 out of 5.

I picked this one for today because I wanted a break from high scoring reviews and remembered having mixed feelings about it. While this time it won me over, I still have serious reservations about its accessibility to a new comics fan. Very recommended for someone already into Marvel books.

Essential Continuity:
No, not really. I think you could skip it altogether if you’re just interested in what happens on Marvel’s main universe, Earth-616. But it lends some nice flavor and reintroduces the core of what makes these characters so important to many of us.

Read first:
This is a hard call to make. Maybe you should read everything Marvel put out before 2004! Or maybe you should just read a little, but not too much. I’d say it’s probably a good idea to get acquainted with the essential arcs of Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Wolverine (Can’t tell a lot trying not to spoil too much). But to really get the most out of it, you need to know some more obscure characters as well.

I wish I already had my Marvel lists online so I could have an easier time of linking you to specific books. The Spider-Man stories referenced here (besides the origin) take place starting in Essential Spider-Man Volume 5.

Read next:
For another alternate reality, check out Marvel: 1602. The main book is better than the sequels.

Or dive into the Ultimate Marvel Universe. There are great retellings of old storylines along with a lot of excellent original plots. And the mastermind of Ultimate Spider-Man actually has a cameo in this book.

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By | Saturday, November 13, 2010 | 5:25 pm | 4 Comments | Blog > Database Updates

Congratulations to Henraldo (Henry from Las Vegas, NV) who is the winner from the Thunderbolts: Justice Like Lightning giveaway! Henry, your book will be in the mail on monday.

For the rest of you, hope for better luck in our current Superman Chronicles drawing!

I’ve added Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites and Marvel: Powerless to the database, to coincide with the previous and upcoming reviews.

I fixed the image outline bug on the forums, so the little jpg buttons should be displaying correctly now.

I also fixed a bug with the feed, so you should no longer be bombarded by books being added to the database in your feedreader or emails – it should just be blog posts!

I’m concentrating the rest of my TRO time on my day off today on the Marvel list, which I have to admit will probably take me a couple more months to finish at this rate. I think it’s worth it to have daily reviews, but if some of you want to help lighten the load there by submitting some, I’ll put whatever time I save into working on that Marvel reading list.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Satruday!

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